Playwright August Wilson Dies at 60
The Virginia Theater, at 245 West 52nd Street will be renamed the August Wilson Theater on October 17th. The marquee, with a giant neon sign will honor Wilson, who was diagnosed in June with terminal liver cancer. The 60 year-old Wilson, who was born in Pittsburgh but resides in Seattle, was confirmed as being stricken with the illness on June 14th at the University of Washington Medical Center in the former city. Doctors initially advised him to undergo a liver transplant and chemoembolization, which entail "cancer-fighting drugs injected directly into the tumor," according to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. However, doctors found that the disease has progressed to such a stage that treatment would be in vain; Wilson was then told that he had three to five months left to live.
"It's not like poker, you can't throw your hand in. I've lived a blessed life. I'm ready," he told the Post-Gazette. "I'm glad I finished the cycle." "The cycle" refers to his epic ten-play chronicle of the African-American experience; each play covered a decade in the twentieth century. In order of production (the first was in 1984 and the last this year), they are: Jitney, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Fences, Joe Turner's Come and Gone, The Piano Lesson, Two Trains Running, Seven Guitars, King Hedley II, Gem of the Ocean and Radio Golf.
The latter has not yet opened on Broadway, but is currently running at now playing at the Center Theatre Group's Mark Taper Forum through September 18th. "Wilson spent the two months after learning of his illness working on a major re-write of Radio Golf, although his condition did not allow him to go to Los Angeles for the rehearsals, the first such absence in his career," stated the Post-Gazette. Both Radio Golf and Gem of the Ocean, respectively set in the last and first decades of the twentieth century, feature the indomitable Aunt Ester as a major character.
Wilson received a Tony Award for Fences (all the plays were nominated but for Jitney, which wasn't produced on Broadway), as well as two Pulitzer Prizes for Fences and The Piano Lesson. He the subject of an upcoming retrospective celebration at New York's Signature Theatre Company. Beginning in fall 2006 with a staging of Two Trains Running, it will run through 2007 (it was pushed back from 2005-2006). Wilson was also to have been seen in a one-man show entitled How I Learned What I Learned, which he first performed elsewhere in 2003, at the theatre.