Jitney at Court Theatre

 

august wilson
Jitney by August Wilson

Directed by Ron OJ Parson

At Court Theatre, Chicago

Powerful first work of Wilson’s Pittsburgh Cycle is a moving drama

Kudos to Court Theatre and director Ron OJ Parson for mounting a superbly acted August Wilson drama- Jitney. The first August Wilson drama of “The Pittsburgh Cycle” (also know as “Century Cycle”) depicting African-American life throughout the 20th Century gives early glimpses of Wilson’s genius as both a story teller and a developer of fully rounded characters. Wilson’s poetic language is a blend of common street talk with lyrical metaphors sprinkled with self-deprecating humor.

Set in the 70’s in a blighted area of the Hill District in Pittsburgh in a shabby office (fine set by Jack Magaw) of a jitney cab company run by Becker (the commanding A.C. Smith)—a stern boss who leads his drivers by a combination of example and intimidation. Becker is a respected good guy.

His drivers are a rich assortment of characters surely found at some taxi offices. Youngblood (Kamal Angelo Bolden) is a Viet Nam vet working several jobs so he can provide a house for his woman and child. His woman, Rena (Caren Blackmore) hears rumors from the gossip Turnbo (the eccentric Allen Gilmore) that Youngblood is stepping-out on her.

august wilson

Fielding (Alfred Wilson.) drinks too much and raises Becker’s ire while Shealy (Brian Weddington) sneaks into the office to receive calls for his ‘numbers’ business when Becker is out.  Doub (Cedric Young. ) is the nice guy retired railroad worker who supplements his pension as a jitney. Philmore (Andre Teamer) is a bell hop who visits for a ride.  August Wilson paints an empathetic, often funny, portrait of African-American life in the 70’s in Jitney through these unique characters.

Tension run high when the city threatens to tear down the office building as part of urban renewal. Becker threatens retirement. His world crashes when his son, Booster (Anthony Fleming III) returns after 20 years in prison for murder. How Becker reacts to Booster is emotionally wrenching; we see each point of view and empathize with both.

 

In the hands of a master storyteller like August Wilson, Jitney flows as high drama. Themes such as younger disrespecting older generations, the struggle of the working class to make a living, and changing social order and the uprooting of older neighborhoods are aptly dealt with in Jitney.

The ensemble piece has several strong performances: A.C. Smith’s intense Becker;  Allen Gilmore’s  gossiping troublemaker Turnbo together with Kamal Angelo Bolden’’s sincere turn as Youngblood lead they way. The entire cast articulated Wilson’s street language effectively. The powerful second act previews Wilson’s genius for high drama from empathetic realistic characters caught struggling to survive in  tough conditions. Jitney is a wonderful example of Wilson’s craft as a playwright. The language  is peppered with humor, angst and hope. The spirit of humanity and simple nobility of these people rings loud and clear. August Wilson’s plays are a glimpse into the American Experience from the African-American point of view. We see the universal hopes, dreams and desires of working class American in Wilson’s truthful works. Jitney was the first of ten plays chronicling the 20th Century.  With August Wilson, you’re in the hands of a master storyteller.

Highly Recommended

Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed: September 15, 2012

Jeff Recommended

For more info checkout the Jitney page at theatreinchicago.com

At Court Theatre,  5535 S. Ellis, Chicago, IL, call 773-753-4472, www.courttheatre.org, tickets $45 – $65, Wednesdays & Thursdays at 7:30, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 3 & 8 pm, Sundays at 2:30 & 7:30 pm, running time is 2 hours 45 minutes with intermission, through October 14, 2012