Saturday, February 5, 2011

A Raisin in the Henrico Theater

Gloomy weather aside, my reasons were twofold for wanting to go to the movies this afternoon.

Ever since I saw the Design 2010 show at the Virginia Center for Architecture, I've been wanting to see the renovated interior of the art deco Henrico Theater, over in a part of town I seldom frequent (the last time was to Farmer Jack's to buy a turkey; don't ask).

And I'd never seen A Raisin in the Sun, surely an egregious omission.

I barely made it into the lobby before being surrounded by the myriad reasons the judges had chosen the theater for a design excellence award.

I paid my dollar admission and began to ogle.

The inside is beautifully restored, with carpeting recreated from a salvaged scrap, the original paint colors, lots of gleaming silver and the feel of a bygone era. In the lobby sits an enormous projector once used in the theater.

Movie posters decorate the walls.

And inside the auditorium are comfortable seats, with the rows spaced far enough apart that there is actually a large gap between the patrons' knees and the next row.

The Byrd and the Westhampton had made forget such a thing was possible in an old theater.

My only complaint was that there was no concession stand and no eating or drinking in the theater.

Too bad, really, since our culture all but requires eating while movie going.

I made do.

Somehow I'd never seen 1961's A Raisin in the Sun, despite having read it in what, high school, college?

I at least knew it was based on a play, so I wasn't expecting much in the way of varied locations.

And, unlike some people, I'm okay with films that mimic plays.

The claustrophobic feel of the apartment was a big component of the characters' lives, so it made sense to keep shots close and stage-like.

As usual, I loved the 60s-era details.

When Ruth gets up in the morning, her bottle of milk and newspaper are on the windowsill waiting for her.

The family shares a bathroom down the hall with other tenants.

When Mama comes back from shopping, her reusable tote in hand and full, Ruth chides her about wearing herself out going cross town to the markets instead of using one the new supermarkets.

But Mama wants none of a place with "buggies, belts and meat wrapped up like candy."

Come to think of it, Mama was espousing exactly the kind of food shopping many people are trying to go back to now.

And it wouldn't be the 1960s without cringe-worthy, politically incorrect dialogue, like "How come all you college boys wear those faggoty-looking white shoes?"

When Ruth unexpectedly finds herself pregnant, she puts down a five dollar deposit with the local back street abortionist.

On the more uplifting side, the film dealt with the emerging interest by blacks in their identity and African heritage.

The contrast between Mama, who had no knowledge of or interest in Africa, and her daughter, who was trying to embrace all things black, showed the cultural shift as the sixties took hold.

And of course, Sidney Poitier, such a superb actor and one of the handsomest men ever to grace a screen, was sheer pleasure to look at for two-plus hours, especially in tonal black and white film.

Naturally my favorite line of dialog came from his character.

Sometimes it's just hard to let the future begin.

And sometimes you just can't wait.

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