By August Wilson
Directed by Daniel Bryant
Produced by Congo Square Theatre
At The Athenaeum Theatre, Chicago
“Life’s got its own rhythm. It don’t always go along with your rhythm.
That’s all life is … trying to match up them two rhythms.”-from King Hedley II
Wilson’s Pittsburgh Cycle work set in 1985 dramatizes how violence from the past effects the present
King Hedley II is the last of the ten Pittsburgh Cycle plays, each set in a different decade of the 20th Century, that I have seen making my journey with August Wilson a marvelous trip to exciting, superbly written (almost poetic dialogue) theatrical events chronicling the Black Experience in America. King Hedley II, set in 1985 (the 9th in the 10 play cycle) features several of the characters we meet in Wilson’s Seven Guitars set in the 1940’s (recently mounted at Court Theatre in a riveting production). The violence and frustration from the lack of opportunity that affected the folks in Seven Guitars is even more devastating to the Hill District folks in the 1980’s.
We meet King (Ron Conner), who just returned form seven years in prison for killing a man who scarred his face with a razor. King now sells ‘hot’ refrigerators with his pal, Mister (Marc Rogers) so the two can save the $10,000 needed to open a video store to secure a legit economic future for both. But both men feel the frustration of the slow accumulation of money as the present needs of both pressure them into quick cash crimes (armed robbery).
King lives with his mother, Ruby (TaRon Patton) the former singer from Seven Guitars . She and King battle constantly as both have deep scares from the past. When Tonya (Tiffany Addison), King’s wife announces she is pregnant, King is motivated to provide her and the coming child with all the amenities of life but Tonya, at age 35, isn’t sure see wants to bring another child into the world only to subject it tp the violence of life in the Hill District.
When Aunt Ester, age 366, the local shaman with wisdom and healing powers dies, the Hill District neighborhood is in morning especially the local evangelist and self-appointed Bible quoting eccentric Stool Pigeon (Anthony Irons). When Ruby’s old flame, Elmore (Trinity Murdock) returns to Pittsburgh, old flames erupt and the past violence and grudges are rekindled. Elmore tells king about his past as he cons and connives his way around the country over the past 40 years. Both King and Elmore tell of regrets over the killing of another.
King Hedley II contains several funny monologues with a few powerful, angst-infused speeches depicting the frustration and rage of folks trying to survive and make their way in Black America. August Wilson develops empathetical characters who both laugh at life’s absurdities and lament the harsh realities that hamper their dreams. The lighted dialogue together with the powerful monologues are beautifully poetic statements of life and the feeling of the characters give King Hedley II an almost operatic tone. all that is missing is the music!
The entanglement of the characters in generations of violence, especially with most Black men carrying guns, surly leads to more violence as petty squabbles and pent-up frustrations often lead to gun shots. Wilson honestly depicts how the hopes and fears and illogical planning often become self destruction actions as the folks try to break the cycle of poverty.
Besides the terrific writing by a master playwright, King Hedley II is a master class in ensemble acting as the six players each had their time to soar. From TaRon Patton’s powerful, funny Ruby to Anthony Irons wonderful pontifications as the Bible spouting newspaper hoarding neighbor to Trinity Murdocks’s smooth charismatic grifter Elmore to Marc Roger’s loyal mate Mister to Tiffany Addison’s frustrated Tonya, we see the residents as truthful souls. But Ron Conner’s performance as King, the man trying to live by his personal rules of honor is the anchor of the piece. This play is a most engaging drama that puts a face on the violence that emerged in the 1980’s as guns became a tool of social interaction in urban life. That cycle of violence is still with us today. King Hedley II is a wonderful, poignant and emotional journey. Don’t miss it!
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: March 11, 2014
For more info checkout the King Hedley II page at theatreinchicago.com
At The Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport, Chicago, IL, call 773-296-1108, tickets $35, Thursdays thru Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 2 pm, running time is 2 hours 50 minutes with intermission, through April 6, 2014