August Wilson's JITNEY Begins Run at Multi Ethnic Theater Today
Multi Ethnic Theater, in association with Custom Made Theatre, presents August Wilson's Jitney, beginning today, August 7, and continues through August 31, at Gough Street Playhouse, 1620 Gough Street in San Francisco. Jitney is directed by Lewis Campbell, founder and artistic director of Multi Ethnic Theater. The play concerns a group of working class men who offer gypsy cab rides to and from African American communities where city cabs refuse to go.
Jitney will be the fourth August Wilson play Campbell has directed.
"My goal is for Multi Ethnic Theater to produce all ten of Wilson's plays. After Jitney, we'll have six more to go, thus our planning for 'August in August' in association with Custom Made Theatre every August for the next six years," Campbell states.
Previously, Campbell has directed Wilson's Fences, Joe Turner's Come and Gone, and Gem of the Ocean.
Award-winning playwright August Wilson is best known for the ten plays of his "Pittsburgh Cycle," all but one set in the "The Hill District," the Black neighborhood adjacent to downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Culturally, "The Hill" rivaled other Black enclaves like Harlem in the 1920s and San Francisco's Fillmore in the 1940s. Each of the ten plays is set in a different decade of the 20th Century and reflects the temper of that particular time as it affected African-Americans. Only Wilson's Ma Rainey's Black Bottom is set somewhere other than Pittsburgh. Jitney reflects Wilson's view of the 1970s on The Hill.
Cast of the Multi Ethnic Theater Production of Jitney
BENNIE LEWIS as Becker, a well-respected man who runs the Jitney Station.
VERNON MEDEARIS as Turnbo, a jitney driver who is always interested in the
business of others.
FABIAN HERD as Youngblood, a Jitney driver and Vietnam Veteran.
THEODORE LOVE, alternating in the role of Youngblood.
CHARLES JOHNSON as Doub, a longtime jitney driver and Korean War veteran.
TREVOR LAWRENCE as Fielding, a jitney driver and former tailor with a
dependency on alcohol.
ROBIN HUGHES as Rena, Youngblood's girlfriend and mother of their young son.
STUART ELWYN HALL as Shealy, a numbers taker who often uses the jitney
station as his base.
ANTHONY PRIDE, as Philmore, a hotel doorman and recurring jitney passenger.
DAVID STEWART, Becker's son, recently released from prison.
Artistic Director Lewis Campbell is proud of MET's ability to successfully reach out to the community. He says that "some of the most talented Bay Area actors are people with day jobs who work in theater for sheer passion and true meaning. Jitney, a play about working class people, allows our actors to bring their real life experience to the stage." The cast of Jitney includes three bus drivers, a construction worker, a retired firefighter, a motor bike salesman, a mental health case manager, a film maker, a store clerk/screenwriter, and a Ph.D. candidate in psychology who writes mystery novels. Stuart Elwyn Hall returns to MET for his second, Bennie Lewis for his third, and Fabian Herd for his fourth Wilson play directed by Campbell.
August Wilson was born in Pittsburgh in 1945. He dropped out of school in the 10th grade, and as a playwright, is completely self-taught. Wilson's best known plays are in his "Pittsburgh Cycle": Fences (1985) (which won a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award), The Piano Lesson (1990) (a Pulitzer Prize and the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award), Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, and Joe Turner's Come and Gone. August Wilson died in 2005.
Although the plays of the cycle are not strictly connected to the degree of a serial story, some characters appear (at various ages) in more than one of the cycle's plays. Children of characters in earlier plays may appear in later plays. The plays often include an apparently mentally impaired oracular character (different in each play)-for example, Gabriel in Fences or Hambone in Two Trains Running. Jitney has a similar character in Cigar Annie, who does not appear but is a subject of conversation.
The plays in the Pittsburgh Cycle and the decades in which they are set:
- 1900s - Gem of the Ocean (2003)
- 1910s - Joe Turner's Come and Gone (1988)
- 1920s - Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (1984) - set in Chicago
- 1930s - The Piano Lesson (1990) - Pulitzer Prize
- 1940s - Seven Guitars (1995)
- 1950s - Fences (1987) - Pulitzer Prize
- 1960s - Two Trains Running (1991)
- 1970s - Jitney (1982)
- 1980s - King Hedley II (1999)
- 1990s - Radio Golf (2005)
Wilson stated that he was most influenced by "the four Bs": blues music, the Argentine novelist and poet Jorge Luis Borges, the playwright Amiri Baraka and the painter Romare Bearden. He went on to add writers Ed Bullins and James Baldwin to the list. He noted "From Borges, those wonderful gaucho stories from which I learned that you can be specific as to a time and place and culture and still have the work resonate with the universal themes of love, honor, duty, betrayal, etc. From Amiri Baraka, I learned that all art is political, although I don't write political plays. From Romare Bearden I learned that the fullness and richness of everyday life can be rendered without compromise or sentimentality." He valued Bullins and Baldwin for their honest representations of everyday life. (Source, Wikipedia.)