Review: ‘Jitney’ at the Gough Street Playhouse (***)

(Charles Kruger)

(Rating: ***)

This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)
This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

(“Jitney” will play at the Gough Street Playhouse through August 31, 2014.)

Most audiences by now are familiar with playwright August Wilson and his major life’s work, “The Pittsburgh Cycle”, a series of ten plays exploring the experience of African Americans in the 20th century, through a series of stories set in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, one for each decade of the century. Critics agree that “The Pittsburgh Cycle” is one of the great masterpieces of the twentieth century theatre.

Multi Ethnic Theater founder Lewis Campbell has designed and directed a polished production, drawing fine performances from his skilled cast of amateur actors. This production of “Jitney” is part of a plan to produce the entire ten plays of “The Pittsburgh” cycle. So far, Campbell has directed four and plans to present the six remaining over the next six years, one each summer. It is a fine ambition.

For “Jitney”, Multi Ethnic Theater founder Lewis Campbell has designed and directed a polished production, drawing fine performances from his skilled cast of amateur actors.

jinteyThis fine company includes a retired fireman, a career muni employee, a mental health case manager, and a Ph.D. candidate in psychology. The point being that this is a true community theatre (although most of these actors have accumulated a few professional-level credits over the years).

It is clear from the first beat that this director and these actors have deeply considered the play and the characters. The result is quite lovely.

The company of Multi Ethnic Theatre's "Jitney" by August Wilson, playing at the Gough Street Playhouse through August 31. Photo Credit: wehavemet.org.
The company of Multi Ethnic Theatrer’s “Jitney” by August Wilson, playing at the Gough Street Playhouse through August 31. Photo Credit: wehavemet.org.

This gentle play explores the world of Black men working as underground cab drivers (jitney drivers) at a time when the Black community could not get regular cab service due to discrimination. They are working class folk with working class concerns, but they are also aware that they are providing an important service. Playwright Wilson has drawn a finely observed group of characters: among them a gambler, an alcoholic, a preacher, a hotel worker, an ambitious young husband with a new baby, a proud young wife and mother. In Wilson’s hands, none of these characters is reduced to stereotype.

The story revolves around the decision of the city to raze their offices and effectively shut the operation down. Each of the drivers has to deal with the crisis that ensues, along with various personal dramas.

While all of the cast is quite good, there are standout performances by Trevor Lawrence as Fielding, a jitney driver and former tailor with an alcohol problem, and, especially, Anthony Pride as Philmore, a hotel doorman and recurring jitney passenger. Making the most of a small part, Pride creates a memorable and eccentric character.

Director Campbell and a fine cast have thoroughly understood August Wilson’s work and achieved a style of performance that is perfectly appropriate to the play.

This production will please Wilson fans, and serve as a fine introduction for newcomers to “The Pittsburgh Cycle”.

For further information, click here.

_______________________________________________

“Jitney” by August Wilson, presented by Multi Ethnic Theater in association with Custom Made Theatre Company. Directed and designed by Lewis Campbell.

Becker: Bennie Lewis. Turnbo: Vernon Medearis. Youngblood: Fabian Herd. Doub: Charles Johnson. Fielding: Trevor Lawrence. Shealy: Stuart Elwyn Hall. Rena: Robin Hughes. Philmore: Anthony Pride. Booster: David Stewart. 

_______________________________________________

Please like us on Facebook and subscribe by clicking as indicated on the upper right corner of this page. Thank you!

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s