August Wilson's American Century Cycle, in Staged Readings
August Wilson, the acclaimed playwright and historian of the African-American experience during the 20th century, is being celebrated in staged readings through Sept. 28 at The Greene Performance Space in Lower Manhattan.
Ruben Santiago-Hudson, the project's artistic director, announced that the series kicked off Aug. 26 with Wilson's Tony-nominated MA RAINEY'S BLACK BOTTOM, and will conclude with RADIO GOLF on Sept. 28. The staged readings are being presented in the order they originally premiered, at The Greene Space.
"I think we all see this as a unique opportunity to keep August's legacy alive and well for generations to come," said Constanza Romero, Wilson's widow and executor of his estate.
The historic theatrical event coincides with the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s, "I Have a Dream" speech during the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
The series assembled an artistic team consisting of "Wilson Warriors," directors and actors who have worked professionally and personally on a Wilson production. Some readers are reprising roles they performed on stage, including Leslie Uggams, who played Ruby in KING HEADLEY II.
That company is dedicated to diversity and preservation of African-American classics. Leon, recognized as a leading authority on the works of Wilson, was also the artistic director of Atlanta's ALLIANCE THEATRE for more than 10 years. His Broadway directorial credits includes Wilson's GEM OF THE OCEAN, (five Tony nominations), RADIO GOLF (four Tony nominations) and the Tony-award winning revival of FENCES, featuring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis.
Leon was thrilled and honored to have been asked to participate in the current recordings. When Santiago-Hudson approached him about directing FENCES for The Greene Space, he agreed immediately. "I've known Reuben a long time," Leon said just before the live reading of FENCES began.
"He gave me a call and mentioned two words: August Wilson. That's all he needed to say." And Leon was onboard immediately. Leon had previously directed all of Wilson's plays in Atlanta and acted in some.
"In 2004 he asked me to act in a play that Marion McClinton was directing, GEM OF THE OCEAN, so I kind of created that role," Leon said. The play was staged in Boston, then Broadway. "That was his ninth play," Leon said. "And he wanted me to finish the 10-play cycle. Man, I was just humbled because I have always looked up to him and committed to whatever he wanted me to do.
Wilson also wanted Leon to do Toni Morrison's opera, MARGARET GARNER, at Yale in 2005, "when he knew he was sick. He didn't want anyone to know that he was sick with liver cancer," Leon said. "And he continued with his 10th play. He not only gave me an opportunity to direct all 10 of his plays in regional theaters, he gave me crucial advice on how to live, and stand up for ethics and morals.
"He gave me advice about this crazy business we're into, and not a day goes by I don't feel grateful for his contributions," Leon said. "I can never say no, and I'm honored they took these plays on. The idea to record them for younger generations is fantastic. It's up to young people to keep him alive."
Leon's next Broadway production will be "A RAISIN IN THE SUN," Lorraine Hansberry's classic story, featuring Denzel Washington and Diahann Carroll. Previews begin on March 8 at the Barrymore Theater where it premiered 55 years ago.
The Greene Space is an intimate performance venue and broadcast studio.