Review: SEVEN GUITARS AT THE MILWAUKEE REP at Milwaukee Repertory Theatre

The production runs through April 2.

By: Mar. 11, 2023
Review: SEVEN GUITARS AT THE MILWAUKEE REP at Milwaukee Repertory Theatre
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"Seven Guitars," a play from August Wilson's Century Cycle (which chronicles, decade by decade 100 years of Black life in America in the 20th century) is all about how dreams - their cost and their loss.

The Rep has produced seven others from the Cycle. The director, Ron OJ Parson, has performed in one of the Wilson's Cycle plays, and has directed the nine others. The experience shows in this rich production.

'Seven Guitars' is set in the late 1940s in Pittsburgh, the site of most of the Cycle plays - not surprising since Pittsburgh is Wilson's hometown.

The setting is the backyard of a boarding house. Music plays a leading role in the story, as does the challenges of realizing dreams (or just existing), especially if you are a Black man.

The story centers on aspiring blues musician Floyd "Schoolboy" Barton. A song that Barton (DiMonte Henning) recorded before being remanded to the workhouse for 90 days has become a hit. Now free, he has a chance at a record deal, but there are a number of obstacles (including himself) in his way.

He is backed by musician friends - harmonica player Canewell, portrayed by Vincent Jordan, and drummer Red Carter played by Bryant Bentley. Rounding out the seven characters are Vera, the woman Barton cheated on, lost and won (Kierra Bunch); Lousie, the matriarchal owner of the boarding house (Marsha Estell); Hedley (Alfred Wilson) an older man with his own dreams and fighting spirit; and a sensually disruptive newcomer - Louisie's young niece, Ruby, (Saran Bakari) who plays her sexuality like Barton plays his guitar.

The male characters spend a lot of time talking about the challenges of being Black men. The challenges of black women are explored more between the lines and in the expressive performances of Bunch, Estell and Bakari.

All the actors deliver emotionally rich and physically powerful performances in a story that takes them from boisterous triumph to crushing despair. These actors are also able singers and musicians and bursts of the blues punctuate the story.

"Seven Guitars" is a co-production with Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park.


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