BWW Review: HOW I LEARNED WHAT I LEARNED at Pyramid Theatre: An Evening of Reflection
Have you ever taken the time to look back at the people who have influenced your life? What has those influences taught us? They teach us what to do and what not to do. Pyramid Theatre's production of "How I Learned What I Learned," which opened on June 8, ask us to do just that. But they ask in a unique way, by letting us look at a playwright telling the stories that influenced the plays he wrote. That playwright is one of America's most prolific playwrights, August Wilson.
August Wilson was born in April 1945 in Pittsburgh, PA. He dropped out of High School in 1960. He would later receive an honorary high school diploma. He started working different odd jobs he could find, which you hear about in the play. Eventually, August became a poet, which led him down the path of becoming a playwright. He is best known for his series of 10 plays, known as the Pittsburgh Cycle. Each of the plays in this series centers around the African American experience in a different decade of the 20th century. Some of the most known plays in this series are "Fences" and "The Piano Lesson." His play "Fences" is listed as the first show produced by Pyramid Theatre.
In the lead role of Troy Maxon in Pyramid's production of "Fences" was Aaron Smith. So it was very fitting that he played the role of August Wilson for this production. Aaron expertly weaves his way through this 90-minute play telling stories from August Wilson's life. He does an amazing job of bringing out the humor in the show but also brings heart to the challenging lessons he learned in his life. One of the lessons is that something is not always better than nothing. This is a story about August Wilson's mother winning a washing machine. I don't want to give the story away, but it is the part of the show that to me showed how rooted Aaron was in the performance. The way he delivered the story showed his full range of emotions as an actor.
The acting was not the only highlight of the evening. I found myself enjoying the projections used as part of the play. The projections are used to tell the tiles of each section of the show. They come up as though they are being written on a typewriter, which considering the author talking about his life, was very fitting. As the show goes on, the titles became a character. Some of them told exactly what was going to happen and others the theme of what August was about to discuss. There is one moment where the title of a section is humorously skipped over.
The most poignant and timely lesson came from the night for me came at the beginning of the show. August talks about a job where he was mowing lawns and a lady whose lawn was mowing didn't want him mowing her lawn because of the color of his skin. His boss at the time told him to just go on to the next yard to mow. His boss could have said if he doesn't mow your lawn then it isn't going to be mowed but chose to send him on. The lesson he took from this, was that the people were good honest American's but due to the way they grew up and how they learned, they became the people they were today. It made me think about how quick we are to judge people today. We often think people are terrible if they have an opposing view from us, but how often do we take the time to think about how they came to that view.
There are many more things that people can learn from the life of August Wilson. "How I Learned What I Learned," challenges us to take a look at not only ourselves but the people around us and ask how we got to the place we are today. I appreciate Pyramid Theatre Company for presenting us with this story and with this challenge. As this show continues over the next few weeks, if you have not seen it, I would recommend that you make plans to. Performances will continue June 14 and 21 at 7:30 PM and June 23 at 2:00 PM. To find out more about this production, visit http://pyramidtheatre.org/how-i-learned-what-i-learned