Alumna Adilah Barnes joins cast of 'A Raisin in the Sun' at UC Santa Cruz

Award-winning actress, African American Theater Arts Troupe, and Theater Arts Department collaborate for campus production of renowned play

UC Santa Cruz alumna Adilah Barnes (Cowell ’72)
Don Williams-350.jpg
UC Santa Cruz lecturer Don Williams, founder and artistic director of the The African American Theater Arts Troupe

The Theater Arts Department and the African American Theatre Arts Troupe at UC Santa Cruz will present Lorraine Hansberry’s groundbreaking play, A Raisin in the Sun, on campus, March 2-11, at the Theater Arts Second Stage.

Premiering in 1959, A Raisin in the Sun was the first play written by an African American woman produced on Broadway and a winner of the New York Critics' Play of the Year award. It was later made into a feature film starring Sidney Poitier, who recreated his stage performance in the leading role. 

The play portrays the intense hostility faced by a black family when they attempt to move into an exclusive white neighborhood. It takes its title from the 1951 Langston Hughes poem, Harlem, which asks: “What happens to a dream deferred? / Does it dry up / like a raisin in the sun? / Or does it explode?”

The widespread popularity of A Raisin in the Sun transformed the face of American theater, spawning more than 600 new African American theater companies from the mid 1960’s to mid 1970s. As writer James Baldwin famously noted, the play “put more of the truth of black people’s lives on the stage than any other play in the entire history of theatre.” 

The UC Santa Cruz production is directed by lecturer Don Williams and will feature drama students from the African American Theatre Arts Troupe, an ensemble he founded on campus in 1991.

The cast also includes a very special guest--award-winning actress and distinguished UC Santa Cruz alumna--Adilah Barnes (Cowell ’72).

Barnes is a stage, film and television actor whose career has spanned more than four decades. She is perhaps best known to television audiences for her role on ABC's Roseanne and has recently appeared on ABC's The Middle, NBC’s Harry’s Law and Prime Suspect, and CBS's Cold Case. Barnes will also appear in the upcoming 2018 revival of the Roseanne sit-com after a 20-year hiatus.

Her film credits include Erin Brockovich with Julia Roberts, and Murder by Numbers.

Barnes has also toured 40 states and three continents with her one-woman play, I Am That I Am: Woman, Black. And in 2017, she was honored, along with the Los Angeles Women's Theatre Festival, which she co-founded, at the Inner City Cultural Center's 50th anniversary in Los Angeles.

"Being a cast member of UC Santa Cruz's production of A Raisin in the Sun is heartwarming for me on many levels,” Barnes noted. ”First of all, the play is one of my all-time favorite timeless classics. I adore Lorraine Hansberry, who I also portray and give homage to in my solo show On My Own Terms: One Actor's Journey.” 

“Secondly, returning to UCSC and leading a cast of students is a learning experience for all of us, not to mention working with director Don Williams, whom I have worked with in different capacities for many years. And thirdly, I portrayed the daughter character of 'Beneatha' (in A Raisin in the Sun) many years ago and welcome growing into playing the wise and powerful role of 'Mama' at this time around in my career.”

“I am deeply humbled by this UCSC opportunity to work on stage again," Barnes added.

The African American Theater Arts Troupe is a student-based organization that was formed by Williams as a vehicle to create higher visibility, and understanding of African American culture at UC Santa Cruz and in the greater Santa Cruz community.

The Troupe welcomes students from different educational backgrounds and also casts students with little or no experience with acting, technical, and administrative work, in an effort to allow anyone the opportunity to get involved with the program.

Williams said that Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun “brings out the spirit of hope. Because no matter how bad things may become, one can still press forward. If you’re down and out, there is a step forward.”

UC Santa Cruz dean of the arts Susan Solt noted that it is an honor for the Arts Division to present A Raisin the the Sun, describing the play as “a treasure of the American theater and one of the greatest works in the modern canon.”

“What better way to celebrate the UC Santa Cruz Year of Alumni than having one of our most successful and beloved alums, Adilah Barnes, back with us to teach our students, share her mastery of her craft, and to challenge and inspire us to think about issues of race, class, and culture,” she added.


A Raisin in the Sun runs March 2-11, at the Theater Arts Second Stage on the UC Santa Cruz campus. Tickets on sale now at Presented by the UCSC Theater Arts Department in conjunction with the Cultural Arts and Diversity Resource Center, the African American Theater Arts Troupe, and the UCSC Arts Division. (Ms. Barnes appears through the courtesy of Actors' Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States).