Theatre ReviewsTom Williams

The Piano Lesson

By August Wilson

The Piano Lesson by August Wilson


Directed by Ron OJ Parson

At Court Theatre

Chilling ghost story haunts the Charles family

August Wilson’s 1990 Pulitzer Prize winning The Piano Lesson is a brilliant drama filled with richly developed realistic characters that represent the African-American experience in the USA circa 1936 in Pittsburgh, PA. This play is a part of the ten-cycle work each by Wilson covering each decade in the 20th Century. August Wilson uses naturalistic dialogue rich in Southern idioms and slave folklore to tell his stories.

The Piano Lesson atCourt Theatre
The Piano Lesson atCourt Theatre

In The Piano Lesson, we meet the Charles family in Pittsburgh. Bernice Charles (Tyla Abercrumbie) is the straight-laced widow struggling to raise her daughter Maretha during the hard times of the Great Depression.  She lives with her gentle uncle, Doaker (A.C. Smith), a veteran railroad worker.  When Boy Willie Charles (the fabulous Ronald Conner) and his sidekick Lymon (Brian Weddington) arrive from the Deep South with a truckload of watermelon’s–old sibling feuds are renewed.  Boy Willie is determined to buy the land that his family had to work as slaves. Boy Willie is determined to make his ‘mark’ on the world by farming his own land.  In order to raise enough, he must sell the Charles family heirloom–the hand engraved piano now in Doaker’s house protected by Bernice.  She will not agree to sell this piano, a painful reminder of slave days in the Deep South.

The Piano Lesson by August Wilson
The Piano Lesson by August Wilson

Boy Willie wants to break from  the past by forging a new life through the freedom of land ownership.  Playwright August Wilson vividly weaves the myth and folklore of the South including the belief in spirits and ghosts. We also see the influence of music, drinking and philandering by some African-American men through the exploits of Wining Boy (Alfred H. Wilson)–a hard drinking, gambling honky-tonk piano man.

Filled with colorful memories and scary stories such as the ghost of the yellow dog and the emergence of Sutter’s ghost at the Charles family’s house, The Piano Lesson is a well crafted and totally engrossing play that keeps your ear open with a fine assortment of storytelling with interludes of blues and an amazing rhythmic work sung.  The American experience of Africian-Americans comes to life most effectively in The Piano Lesson.

The mystery of the home-invading ghost and the battle over the piano–that is embedded with carvings of Charles family members done by Bernice’s grandfather is the family legacy. What to do with such a legacy renders the struggle between Boy Willie and Bernice. Among the terrific performances in this show are A.C. Smith lovable Daoker, Alfred H Wilson’s funny Wining Boy and Brian Weddingston’s charming Lymon. However, Ronald Conner’s spirited, gregarious and sincere portrait of Boy Willie anchors the show. Conner’s win us with his truthful performance.  Keith Pitts wonderful set and Nick Keenan’s sound with Richard Norwood’s eerie lighting added to the production’s depth.

See this show and discover the roots of a unique part of the American Experience as remembered by a family that suffered in slavery. This brilliant play vividly presents the struggle to come to terms with one’s inheritance and the ghosts of one’s dead. The play’s ending is chilling. August Wilson’s was an American treasure and The Piano Lesson is a master work of theatrical art.

Highly Recommended

Tom Williams

Jeff Recommended

At Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis, Chicago, IL Call 773-753-4472,, Wednesdays & Thursdays at 7:30pm, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 3 & 8 pm, Sundays at 2:30 & 7:30 pm, running time is 2 hours, 50 minutes with intermission, through June 7, 2009

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