Until this week we had never seen an August Wilson play nor really known much about his work, but with subscription seats to “Jitney” coming up on Wednesday, on Tuesday we went to see the film version of “Fences” — its been around, and discussed in the VDP — and it proved to be every bit as good as the reviews. An Academy Award to Viola Davis would seem likely. It also set us up nicely for “Jitney.”
Wilson wrote ten plays about African American life in the 20th century. Each is set in a different decade and all but one in Pittsburgh. “Fences” is the 50s and “Jitney” is the 70s. The plays were intended as vehicles for theater audiences to better understand the 20th century black experience. The two that we have now seen are both powerful and great theater.
In “Jitney,” the plot revolves around Brecker (John Douglas Thompson), the owner of a car service, whose son, Booster (in our case understudy — who was just fine — Stephen Tyron Williams), is about to get out of jail after a 20 year term. The car service is on life support, the building is about to be torn down, and Becker and his drivers are trying to save it. Needless to say Booster arrives home and comes to see his father — who has not once visited him in jail — to try to establish a relationship. Much more ruins the plot, but in a similar fashion to “Fences” the play is about an intense father-son relationship, albeit in the case of “Jitney” with no female involvement.
The car service is manned by a handful of drivers, including Turnbo (Michael Potts), Fielding (Anthony Chisholm and Youngblood (Andre Holland) who provide the commentary, the background and a lot of humor. It is very intense and brilliantly written; it has a universally fine cast, a fabulous set and enjoys great directing from Ruben Santiago-Hudson. It has a limited run at the Manhattan Theater Club’s Friedman Theater, go before it closes.