Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.

Georgetown University

Joy Jones Talks About A Raisin in the Sun at Arena Stage


Before an actor steps on stage to become a character in a play, a great deal of time has been spent preparing for that role. Joy Jones, now appearing in Arena Stage’s A Raisin in the Sun, began her advance work by watching an archival recording of the 2014 Broadway revival of Lorraine Hansberry’s play which starred Denzel Washington as Walter Lee Younger and Anika Noni Rose as Walter’s sister, Beneatha, the role Jones is now playing. Jones’ research, however, was just beginning.

“I analyzed my script: first writing down anything that Beneatha says about herself, then writing down anything all the other characters say describing her, and then going back to Beneatha’s lines and noting any vocal habits or repetitions,” Jones explains. “For example, Beneatha says `gee’ and `oh’ frequently, which told me she was an expressive person.”

Jones also reviewed the packet of background information the play’s dramaturg, Georgetown University Professor Soyica Colbert, gave to the cast and creative team. “It contained details of Lorraine Hansberry’s own life and details about Chicago and the broader society [in the early 1960s],” she says. “My next step was watching films and documentaries of the time, especially those featuring African-Americans and other people of African descent.” Jones found the standouts were: Carmen Jones, an adaptation of Bizet’s opera Carmen for an African-American cast; Black Orpheus, which brought the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice to the twentieth-century madness of Carnival in Rio; and Take a Giant Leap, a coming of age film about a black teenager growing up in a predominantly white environment.

And all that before memorizing one line!

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Joy Jones

Arena’s Artistic Director Molly Smith seems to be a woman on a mission. This season’s lineup of plays – Roe, Watch on the Rhine, Intelligence, and Smart People – provoke discussion at a time when those conversations are desperately needed. A Raisin in the Sun fits that pattern. Hansberry’s play, which first debuted on Broadway in 1959, centers on an an African-American family living in Chicago, struggling to improve their lives. The family patriarch has died, leaving his widow, Lena (Lizan Mitchell) with a life insurance payment of $10,000. How that money will be spent creates tension within the family. Lena’s son, Walter Lee (Will Cobbs), who works as a chauffeur, wants to open a liquor store. Beneatha has set her sights on becoming a doctor, yet she is still defining herself, illustrated in the play by the two very different men she is dating.

“I could relate to Beneatha,” says Jones. “I remember being in college at 20 and being very sure about some things – who I thought I was, who I wanted to be.  And I also remember there being many, many things that I was unsure and even ignorant about. I knew that I was in a state of becoming. So my portrayal of Beneatha definitely goes back and forth between being sure and unsure.”

Despite her ambitions to further her education, Beneatha seems less concerned than her brother with the money that their mother will be receiving. “I think Beneatha’s response is three-fold,” explains Jones. “One is a sense of rightness about the money being her mother’s as next of kin. Two, is her certainty as the younger – somewhat spoiled – sibling that she’ll be taken care of like always. And third is the optimism of youth. That all contrasts with frustration and desperation that Walter Lee has as a husband and father in his mid thirties.”

While the play never shows Beneatha actually studying, she expresses her ambitions through the play’s dialogue. “In her very first scene, she mentions a recent biology class,” Jones says. In a scene with one of her suitors, Joseph Asagai, played by Bueka Uwemedimo, Beneatha “marvels at the power of medicine to heal a young playmate, and says that she wants to cure people.”

Asagai, who is from Nigeria, teaches Beneatha about her African roots, while George Murchison (Keith L. Royal Smith) takes her to cultural events. “Each young man offers her a different set of possibilities,” says Jones. “Her time with George exposes her to high culture: theatre performances and `nice places’, and a world of wealth and material comfort. In contrast, Asagai offers her entrée into a world beyond Chicago: a world of political transformation and ancient culture. And both men are beautiful!” Which one would she choose? “Several women I’ve spoken to after performances tell me what they thought Beneatha did after the play ended. Some think Beneatha goes to Nigeria with Asagai, and others are equally certain that she leaves them both behind for a career in medicine!”

The issue of abortion is brought up in the play, a topic that continues to be debated. “At our opening night, Joi Gresham, the trustee of the Lorraine Hansberry Literary Trust said `that we are all catching up to Lorraine,’” says Jones. “She meant that so many of the issues Lorraine Hansberry discusses are still with us, including abortion. I believe it’s included to show a context where a woman could consider abortion as the best or rational choice to preserve her relationship with her partner and the financial well being of her entire family.”

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Bueka Uwemedimo as Joseph Asagai and Joy Jones as Beneatha Younger 

Racial equality, however, is the overall theme of the play. The Civil Rights movement was in its infancy. When Lena uses some of the money to put a down payment on a house in an all white community, the reaction is swift and hurtful. A representative of the neighborhood attempts to buy back the house from Lena. “There are several versions of the play which include scenes and even characters that are not in this production,” says Jones. “One such scene is with a neighbor, Mrs. Johnson. She tries to draw the family into conversation about the expected check and eventually berates them – especially Beneatha – for their proud ways. It’s an insightful scene because it shows that in this working class community the Younger family is perceived as strivers, who may or may not have ‘airs’. Therefore, inside and outside of the family it is not a great surprise. They not only work hard but dream big.”

The title of the play comes from a Langston Hughes poem Harlem: “What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?”  “When I heard about the genesis of the title I thought that it was a powerful call back to the poem,” says Jones. “The title could’ve been Dream Deferred, but instead Lorraine Hansberry shows the poetic image. The choice – like much of the play’s dialogue – shows that Lorraine Hansberry herself had a sense of lyrical language.”

More than 50 years later, Hansberry’s play still resonates, particularly in our nation’s capital. “The play is important now because we always need stories that remind us about all the humanity in all the other people around us,” says Jones. “And as the city grows and changes, and the nation discusses security and immigration, it’s timely to think about our perception of insiders and outsiders. I would hope that audiences are reminded of the nobility and imperfection of regular people who want to live good, principled lives and make the world better for themselves and the children.”

Photos by C. Stanley Photography
Top: Lizan Mitchell as Lena Younger and Joy Jones as Beneatha Younger

A Raisin in the Sun
Arena Stage
1101 Sixth Street SW

My Career Choice: Jennifer Meltzer – All Set Restaurant & Bar


A native of Silver Spring, Maryland, Jennifer Meltzer discovered her passion for the hospitality industry while studying anthropology and Middle Eastern studies at the University of Virginia. Meltzer worked in a sandwich shop and found that her cultural studies applied daily to guest interactions in the restaurant and enjoyed making people happy with a simple sandwich and a smile.  Following graduation, Meltzer continued her Middle Eastern studies, earning a master’s degree from Georgetown University in 2006, but something kept pulling her back to hospitality.

Since graduating, Jennifer Meltzer has worked in a number of well-known restaurants in Washington, D.C. including BLT Steak, The Capital Grille, Founding Farmers, and Del Frisco’s Grille. She is now managing partner of All Set Restaurant & Bar in Silver Spring, Maryland. In addition to her professional experience, Meltzer has a certificate in food service management from Cornell University and has earned her CWP (Certified Wine Professional) from the Culinary Institute of America and, most recently, achieved the second level in the Court of Master Sommeliers.

Can you point to one event that triggered your interest in your career?
Like many people, I was waiting tables while finishing grad school and looking for my “real” job. The search wasn’t going well but luckily, I was becoming more and more interested in the restaurant industry and the language of food and high-level hospitality. One evening I was serving a pair of sisters who you could tell were excited and engaged in the meal, food and service…this was 10 years ago.  At the end of their meal I decided to send them over one of our most popular desserts in addition to their selection. When I presented the check, I let them know the dessert was on the house. One of the women started crying—unbeknownst to me it was her birthday and she hadn’t been able to spend it with her sister in several years and this gesture made an already emotional meal truly memorable. The fact that I was able to play such an instrumental role in their evening, just by being intuitive, compassionate and caring still makes me smile today. That was the trigger that made me realize how valuable of a role people in the hospitality industry can have on the lives of complete strangers.

What about this career choice did you find most appealing?
For one thing, it’s a constant challenge. Even the most mundane tasks can be made more efficient and less frustrating with a creative approach and working in a restaurant means there are always opportunities to invent and test out a different way of doing something. When I started, I quickly discovered that my educational background prepared me to be a natural hospitalitarian—I understand people’s needs and desires and how to best meet them.

Above all, I truly appreciate the fact that we can actually affect the lives of strangers by providing the gift of hospitality. We go out to dinner to share special moments—what we on the service side are doing is more than just a job; it makes an impact on the milestone moments in people’s lives.

What steps did you take to begin your education or training?
I began my education and training in hospitality without even knowing while I was studying anthropology at the University of Virginia. This background gave me the tools to be able to anticipate people’s needs and wants—as well as the desire to do so.

Once I committed to making this my career, I invested the same amount of effort into my education in the food service and hospitality industry as I did with my graduate program in Arab Studies at Georgetown. That included an online program in Food Service Management from Cornell, a six-week wine boot camp at the CIA in Napa, and sitting for the Court of Sommelier Level 1 and 2 Exams, not to mention every service, food and wine book I can get my hands on and watching every episode of Chopped!

Along the way, were people encouraging or discouraging?
It was more confusion than anything else. The important people in my life didn’t understand why I would study and work so hard for so many years only to work in a restaurant. Many had never worked in a restaurant before and therefore didn’t understand the enriching challenges it can present if you are serious about it. The only person who did understand that was my dad, but because he had owned a restaurant he actually gave me warnings: the long hours, how physically and emotionally demanding it is…but now, I honestly don’t think anyone can picture me doing anything else.

Did you ever doubt your decision and attempt a career change?
Yes and no. Doubts are a part of life and everyone doubts their choices at some point. For anyone who works in hospitality, holidays spent in a restaurant while serving people who are celebrating with their families while you can’t always leaves room for doubt. Until I opened my own restaurant, there was always that thought in the back of my mind that I could completely switch paths, get a 9-5 desk job, and assimilate into mainstream society (and the lives of friends and family).

When did your career reach a tipping point?
After much success and promotions with fantastic restaurant groups, I took a job with a small but growing restaurant group and was excited to make an impact.  It turned out to be a terrible fit and I was fired! I couldn’t believe it but it was the stimulus needed to make a decision – do I leave the restaurant world, be content with serving or do it for myself?  Although that experience was totally traumatic and still stings, I’m happy to say that All Set will be celebrating our 2nd anniversary in April and I wouldn’t be here unless that had happened.

Can you describe a challenge you had to overcome?
As soon as I decided to commit myself to the industry I had to accept that to succeed I would have to put my personal life on hold. It was hard at the beginning to continuously turn down invitations from friends and family, and even harder to see those invitations dry up as I repeated myself over and over: “I can’t, I’m working.” I lost touch with a lot of people I was close to who didn’t work in restaurants, and I felt like I was letting down my family by not being around. Creating and maintaining balance mentally, emotionally, and physically as a restaurant manager and now as an owner is a challenge every single day.

What single skill has proven to be most useful?
Smiling and seeming calm and collected when you have 500 covers on the books and you just found out about one of the various restaurant crises that pop up in the space of a long career: a bathroom disaster with no one to clean but you, a fire in the kitchen with a full window of tickets, half your staff not showing up for a holiday brunch…etc.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?
When I get to witness development within my team—when it’s not just waitressing anymore, but it becomes their life because of the inspiration and education I have been able to give them. Having that direct effect on someone who just months before was a complete stranger is supremely rewarding.

Any advice for others entering your profession?
Education is key—there are so many books and movies to inspire, teach and motivate you. Thirst for knowledge is so important. A lot of the tasks we do might seem monotonous but every day is an opportunity to do something different.

Get a comfortable pair of shoes. Don’t let a bad review ruin your day. Make sure you understand the difference between yourself and the restaurant. Have strong self-esteem and a personality. Make sure you like to drink and eat; that’s pretty important. And whatever you do, don’t expect it to be glamorous!

Click for the website of All Set Restaurant & Bar