August Wilson – Our Black Shakespeare
August Wilson is the most influential and successful African American playwright writing today. He is the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Fences, The Piano Lesson, King Hedley II, Ma Rainy’s Black Bottom, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, Seven Guitars, Two Trains Running, Jitney and Radio Golf. His plays have been produced all over the world.
August Wilson – American Century Cycle
August Wilson’s celebrated 10-play cycle captures 100 years of African American life during each decade of the 20th century. Let’s experience an historic series in The Greene Space as an extraordinary cast of actors and directors — many who worked directly with Wilson — gather to make the first-ever recording of all ten plays.
The series kicks off Monday, August 26, bringing together many longtime Wilson collaborators and interpreters, including the project’s Artistic Director and Tony Award-winner Ruben Santiago-Hudson; Associate Director and Tony Award-nominee Stephen McKinley Henderson; Directors include Tony Award-nominee Kenny Leon; Tony Award-winner Phylicia Rashad; Michele Shay; and Marion McClinton. The readings will feature many actors reprising the roles they performed on stage, including Tony Award-winner Leslie Uggams; Drama Desk and Obie Award-winner Anthony Chisholm; Obie Award-winner Brandon Dirden; Russell Hornsby; Tony Award-winner Roger Robinson; Emmy Award-winner Keith David; Ebony Jo-Ann; John Earl Jelks; Roslyn Ruff; S. Epatha Merkerson; Wendell Pierce; Jesse L. Martin; Harry Lennix and Taraji P. Henson in her Wilson debut.
The readings will be scored with original music by Grammy-nominated composer Bill Sims, Jr. and other composers who worked with Wilson. The plays will be presented in the order in which they premiered, with the recordings shared with institutions around the U.S.
About the plays
Wilson’s 10-play cycle chronicles the African American experience in the 20th century with each play set in a different decade. The cycle begins in the early 1900s, when wounds from slavery and the Civil War were still fresh, and closes in the 1990s, when even a large and increasingly influential black middle class would not escape persistent racial tensions. Two of the plays, Fences and The Piano Lesson, were recognized with Pulitzer Prizes.
|8/26||7pm||Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom|
|9/4||7pm||Joe Turner’s Come and Gone|
|9/9||7pm||The Piano Lesson|
|9/11||7pm||Two Trains Running|
|9/21||7pm||King Hedley II|
|9/24||7pm||Gem of the Ocean|
The Greene Space
44 Charlton Street (corner of Varick Street)
New York, NY
8/26 – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
The play is set in Chicago in the 1920s (the only play in the group not set in Pittsburgh), and deals with issues of race, art, religion and the historic exploitation of black recording artists by white producers.
In a Chicago-based recording studio, Ma Rainey’s band players, Cutler, Toledo, Slow Drag, and Levee turn up to record a new album of her songs. As they wait for her to arrive they banter, tell stories, joke, philosophise and argue. As the play unfolds it becomes clear that the tension is between the young hot-headed trumpeter Levee, who has dreams of having his own band, and veteran players Cutler and Toledo. The play’s title refers to a song of the same title by Ma Rainey referring to the Black Bottom dance.
Irvin, Ma’s manager
Sturdyvant, studio owner
Slow Drag, bassist
8/28 – Fences
Set in the 1950s and tells the story of Troy, a restless trash-collector and former baseball athlete who, at 53, is struggling to provide for his family. Troy was a great baseball player in his younger years, having spent time practicing in prison for an accidental murder he’d committed during a robbery. Because the color barrier had not yet been broken in Major League Baseball, Troy was unable to make good money or to save for the future.
The first Broadway revival of the play opened at the Cort Theatre on April 26, 2010 with a limited 13-week engagement. Directed by Kenny Leon, the production starred Denzel Washington (Troy Maxson) and Viola Davis (Rose) as the married couple struggling with changing U.S. race relations. The revival was nominated for ten Tony Awards, winning three for Best Revival of a Play, Best Actor in a Play (Denzel Washington), and Best Actress in a Play (Viola Davis) The play also won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
Directed by Kenny Leon and featuring actors Eugene Lee,Jesse L. Martin, Regina Taylor, Ray Anthony Thomas and Jonathan Majors.
9/4 – Joe Turner’s Come and Gone
Set in Pittsburgh in the 1910’s. The play chronicles the lives of a few freed former enslaved African Americans and deals with themes of identity, migration and the conflicts of racism and discrimination. Joe Turner is more of a representational character in this play than a literal character. By illegally kidnapping freed and run away slaves, Turner represents the evil of the Southern, racist white man. He is based on the person of Joe Turney, brother of Tennessee governor Peter Turney, who would press Negroes in peonage.
Directed by Phylicia Rashad and featuring Keith David,Taraji P. Henson, S. Epatha Merkerson, Roger Robinson,Raynor Scheine, Jason Dirden, John Douglas Thompson,January LaVoy, Nile Bullock and Alexis Holt.
9/9 – The Piano Lesson
Set in 1936 Pittsburgh during the aftermath of the Great Depression. The play deals with themes of family legacy, and tells the story of the Charles family and a brother and sister who have different ideas on what to do with the piano they own – keep or sell it. The play won the 1990 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
The brother, Boy Willie, is a sharecropper who wants to sell the piano to buy the land (Sutter’s land) that his ancestors had toiled on as slaves while the sister, Berniece, remains emphatic about keeping it. The piano shows the carved faces of their great-grandfather’s wife and son during the days of their enslavement.
Directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson, and featuring Brandon J. Dirden, Roslyn Ruff, James A. Williams, Jason Dirden, Alexis Holt, Eric Lenox Abrams, Chuck Cooper and Mandi Masden.
9/11 – The Two Trains Running
Set in 1969 in Pittsburgh’s Hill District. It tells the story of a local diner owner who fights to stay open as a municipal project encroaches on his establishment. His regulars must deal with racial inequality and the turbulent, changing times.
The restaurant in the play is at 1621 Wylie Avenue, in Pittsburgh’s Hill District. In the 1940s and 1950s, the Hill District was one of the most prosperous, culturally active black neighborhoods in the United States. In 1960s, however, the neighborhood had suffered a sharp economic decline.
In the play, Memphis recounts how his restaurant, which now sees few patrons, used to be packed with customers. He discusses how many once-bustling small businesses have since closed down.
Directed by Michele Shay and featuring actors Ron Cephas Jones, James A. Williams, Owiso Odera, Leon Addison Brown and Harvy Blanks.
9/13 – Seven Guitars
Set in 1948. A Blues singer Floyd “Schoolboy” Barton just released from prison is asked to sign a record deal after a song he recorded months before becomes an unexpected hit. He is ready to right the past year’s wrongs and return to Chicago with a new understanding of what’s important in his life. Unfortunately his means of righting wrongs are inherently flawed.
The play begins and ends after the funeral of one of the main characters, showing events leading to the funeral in flashbacks.
Directed by Stephen McKinley Henderson, and featuring actors Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Brenda Pressley, Wendell Pierce, Lou Ferguson, Harry Lennix and Cassandra Freeman.
9/16 – Jitney
Set in a worn-down gypsy cab station in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in early autumn 1977.
Regular cabs will not travel to the Pittsburgh Hill District of the 1970s, and so the residents turn to each other. Jitney dramatizes the lives of men hustling to make a living as jitneys—unofficial, unlicensed taxi cab drivers. When the boss Becker’s son returns from prison, violence threatens to erupt.
Directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson and featuring actors Anthony Chisholm, Amari Cheatom, Stephen M. Henderson, Barry Shabaka Henley, Harvy Blanks andJoaquina Kalukango.
9/21 – King Hedley II
King Hedley II has been described as one of Wilson’s darkest plays. Set in the 1980s, it tells the story of an ex-convict in Pittsburgh trying to rebuild his life by selling stolen refrigerators so that he can save enough money to buy a video store.
Directed by Michele Shay and featuring actors Russell Hornsby, Leslie Uggams, Kevin Carroll, Stephen M. Henderson, Marsha Stephanie Blake and Arthur French.
9/24 – Gem of the Ocean
Set in 1904 in the Pittsburgh home of Aunt Ester, a 285-year-old former slave and renowned cleanser of souls. A young man from Alabama visits her for help in absolving the guilt and shame he carries from a crime he’s committed, and she takes him on a journey of self-discovery.
Directed by Kenny Leon and featuring Eugene Lee, Stephen Tyrone Williams, Phylicia Rashad, Danai Gurira, Raynor Scheine, Anthony Chisolm and Keith Randolph Smith.
Aunt Ester Tyler
Solly Two kings
Black Mary Wilkes
9/28 – Radio Golf
Radio Golf is set in 1997 in Pittsburgh’s Hill District. It tells the story of a charming, powerful African-American politician who is running for the highest office of his career with the support of his savvy wife. As he steps into political prominence, his plans collide with his past.
Harmond Wilkes, an Ivy League-educated man who has inherited a real estate agency from his father, his ambitious wife Mame, and his friend Roosevelt Hicks want to redevelop the Hill District in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The project, called the Bedford Hills Redevelopment Project, includes two high-rise apartment buildings and high-end chain stores like Starbucks, Whole Foods, and Barnes & Noble. Harmond is also about to declare his candidacy to be Pittsburgh’s first black mayor.
Directed by Marion McClinton and featuring Rocky Carroll, John Earl Jelks, Sharon Washington, James A. Williams and Anthony Chisholm.