I AM LORRAINE HANSBERRY: MEASURE ME RIGHT, Black Ensemble Theater. Lephate Cunningham Jr. and Jackie Taylor’s biographical play pays homage to the visionary playwright who first made a place for the drama of the African-American family in America’s theater canon. In this nonlinear creation, sketches of Hansberry’s short life–from adolescence on Chicago’s south side to marriage to a Russian Jew in New York’s East Village–are interspersed with scenes and dialogue from A Raisin in the Sun, dance segments, and Taylor’s portrayal of Hansberry, including text from a collection of her work, To Be Young, Gifted and Black. While both the dance numbers and the mirroring of characters from Raisin and Hansberry’s life are effective, Taylor’s beautifully delivered commentary slows the dramatic action of young Lorraine’s story. Hansberry’s writing in To Be Young, Gifted and Black is brilliant and inspiring, but it’s prose, not a play.

The short scenes delve into some of the issues Hansberry faced, including her desire to be independent and to challenge traditional roles for women; Latrice A. Bailey makes the young writer a brave and sympathetic heroine. Unfortunately, some scenes are so loaded with biographical exposition that they come off a bit stiff, and they don’t address some of the more complex emotional and intellectual issues Hansberry faced. For instance, we’re told that her marriage to Bob Nemiroff, who comes across as a putzy appendage, ended in divorce after 11 years, but we never get to see why. Black Ensemble offers an imaginative, soulful tribute to Hansberry’s legacy, but it lacks the playwright’s craft that would have taken us deep into her story.

–Gabrielle S. Kaplan