August Wilson's Jitney in its Broadway Debut: A Review

Now, a dozen years after his death, August Wilson is on a roll. Maybe the wide release of the movie of his stage play Fences will bring him a posthumous Oscar for Best Screenplay, but more, because Denzel Washington has vowed he would see all 10 plays of this bard of Pittsburgh's Hill District produced. A new Manhattan Theater Club production of Jitney, a 1982 drama at the Samuel J. Friedman Theater, a Broadway debut for this early play, is a must-see.

Taking place in a gypsy cab depot, Jitney is a vision of a black community with lively characters, well defined by the poetry they speak, their world a microcosm of age-old themes. When Denzel Washington spoke about how he opened up Fences for the movie, he wanted to make Troy's marriage to Rose, and his betrayal, the emotional core, but unmistakably center stage is the father-son story, and so too is this theme the focus in Jitney. Ancestry is a key value, and under Ruben Santiago-Hudson's superb direction, the straight line between Becker (the formidable John Douglas Thompson) and Booster (Brandon J. Dirden), the son he has not seen for 20 years is the tough love around which the drivers swirl in syncopated speech.

Andre Holland, getting much attention for his role in the movie Moonlight, is hot and fiery as the Vietnam vet, Youngblood. At odds with Turnbo (Michael Potts), a meddling gossip who is also menacing with a gun, Youngblood wants to do right by his woman (Carra Patterson, the only female in this testosterone laden cast). The wall phone is a character in itself, and who ever answers gets to say, "Car Service." By play's end, with the wrecking ball of gentrification looming large over this fine-tuned ensemble, you are no more ready to leave the station than Jitney's drivers are. RRRRring! It must go on.

A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.