Photo courtesy of Gail Manker
Jonathan Berry (left) and Leslie "Ezra" Smith in "Seven Guitars."
Seeing August Wilson’s Seven Guitars
performed in the very Hill District backyard
in which it was set should give anyone chills, but also a sense of an artistic birthright restored: Wilson was raised on the Hill, and grew up in the house in front of that Bedford Avenue backyard, but who knows how long it’s been since one of his plays was actually staged in the neighborhood?
It’s not too much to call this fine Playwrights production “historic.” But if you want to see it, you’d better hurry: There are just five more performances through Sunday, and one of them (Saturday night’s) is already sold out. Fortunately, bowing to popular demand (all six performances the first two weeks sold out), Playwrights added weekend matinees this week, which has effectively doubled your chances of getting a seat.
With straw blanketing the yard’s bare dirt, and live chickens pecking away, the outdoor production takes you back to 1948, with seven characters (the “guitars” of the title) attached to the mystery of who killed bluesman Floyd “Schoolboy” Barton (though Barton, played by Jonathan Berry, is alive for most of the play, in extended flashback).
Director Mark Clayton Southers’ staging of the 1996 play runs about three and a half hours, including an intermission; it’s probably Wilson’s most discursive work. But it takes time to create a world on stage, and Seven Guitars
features some of Wilson’s most pungent dialogue: As one character says, “You get a hit record and the white folks call you ‘Mister.’”
Here’s Michelle Pilecki’s review
of the show for City Paper
Bonus: The house is the under-construction arts center known as August Wilson House, so you can get a sneak peak at that, too. And you’ll be sitting within blocks of the real-life settings for several other Wilson plays, including Fences
and Joe Turner’s Come and Gone
takes place at 1727 Bedford Ave.
Tickets are $35 and are available here