'Jitney' on Broadway, 'Fences' on film -- the August Wilson Legacy Continues


By Helaine Feldman, ZEALnyc Contributing Writer, January 10, 2017

The year 2017 brings us two exciting mountings of works by August Wilson, two-time Pulitzer Prize winning playwright, who died in 2005.

Wilson's play, Jitney, is receiving its first Broadway production although it was written in 1979 and previously seen Off-Broadway. It premiered at the Allegheny Repertory Theatre in Pittsburgh, Wilson's home town, opened Off-Broadway at the Second Stage theatre in 2000, and has been seen in London, as well. This Broadway production produced by the Manhattan Theatre Club is currently in previews, and opens on January 19 at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre. It stars Anthony Chisholm, who appeared in the original 2000 Off-Broadway production, and is directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson, no stranger to Wilson's plays, having received a Tony Award for his performance in Seven Guitars in 1996.

(l. to r.) Anthony Chisholm and August Wilson

Wilson's ten best known plays, known collectively as The Pittsburgh Cycle, or the American Century Cycle, are each set in a different decade, all set in Pittsburgh except one, and all portray the African-American experience in the 20th century. They include: Gem of the Ocean, set in the 1900s (Broadway, 2004); Joe Turner's Come and Gone, set in the 1910s (Broadway, 1988); Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, set in Chicago in the 1920s (Broadway, 1984); The Piano Lesson, the 1930s (Broadway, 1990; winner of the Pulitzer Prize); Seven Guitars, the 1940s (Broadway, 1996); Fences, the 1950s (Broadway, 1987; winner of the Pulitzer Prize and Tony for Best Play); Two Trains Running, the 1960s (Broadway, 1992); Jitney, the 1970s; King Hedley II, the 1980s (Broadway, 2010); and Radio Golf, the 1990s (premiered in 2005 at the Yale Repertory Theatre and opened on Broadway in 2007, two years after Wilson's death).

John Earl Jelks and Anthony Chisholm in 'Radio Golf;' photo: Carol Rosegg.

Meanwhile, the film version of Fences is playing throughout the country, starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis recreating the roles they originated on Broadway in a 2010 revival of the play. The film opened to critical acclaim and already is being touted for an Oscar. I think Mr. Wilson would be pleased.

Denzel Washington and Viola Davis in 'Fences;' Paramount Pictures

Cover: August Wilson; courtesy of augustwilson.net.

Helaine Feldman, a Contributing Writer for ZEALnyc, writes about theater performance and related features.

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