When James T. Spencer, director of the Syracuse University Brass Ensemble (SUBE), turned to accept the applause at the 2018 Great American Brass Band Festival (GABBF) in Danville, Kentucky, he joked to himself, “Now what do we do for an…
August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-Winning Masterpiece ‘The Piano Lesson’ Starts Oct. 22
In August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece “The Piano Lesson,” the past threatens to pull apart brother and sister. Bernice treasures a one-of-a-kind piano, an heirloom with carved figures of their enslaved ancestors. Boy Willie suddenly arrives from the South determined to sell the piano and buy the land his family worked on. When the ghost of the piano’s original owner appears, family conflicts escalate to a dramatic confrontation. With lyrical language rolling from the rowdy to the tender, this is one of Wilson’s finest.
“The Piano Lesson” performs Oct. 22-Nov. 9 in the Archbold Theatre at the Syracuse Stage/Drama Complex, 820 E. Genesee St. Discounted preview performances are Oct. 22 and 23. The Opening Night performance is Friday, Oct. 24, at 8 p.m. Tickets and info are available at http://www.syracusestage.org, by phone at 315-443-3275 and in person at the Syracuse Stage Box Office, Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Discounts are available for groups of 10 or more at 315-443-9844. Discounts are also available for seniors, students and U.S. military personnel and veterans. Sign interpretation, open captioning and audio description services are available for select performances.
“The Piano Lesson” is the fourth play in Wilson’s Century Cycle, a collection of 10 plays documenting the African-American experience, with each play covering a different decade of the 20th century. Like all plays in the cycle, “The Piano Lesson” is meant to “raise consciousness through theater” and echo “the poetry in the everyday language of black America.” (The Paris Review)
Timothy Bond, producing artistic director of Syracuse Stage and director of “The Piano Lesson,” has committed to producing all of Wilson’s Century Cycle at Syracuse Stage. Of “The Piano Lesson,” Bond says, “It’s a very powerful story, and one of the best American plays I have worked on. The plays touches upon many issues facing the world in 1936, and it does so through the lens of one family, with great passion, great humor and great love.”
After a successful run on Broadway, “The Piano Lesson” received the 1990 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. New York Newsday called it “a lovely tragi-comedy … Haunting as well as haunted.” “Wonderful … A play of magnificent confrontations,” said The New York Post. The New York Times called it “a reminder of how emotionally sustaining great theater can be.”
In writing the Century Cycle, Wilson was influenced by what he referred to as “the four Bs”: blues music, poet Jorge Luis Borges, playwright Amiri Baraka and the painter Romare Bearden.
Bearden’s collage “The Piano Lesson” inspired Wilson to write a play featuring a strong female figure. Said Wilson, “I try to make my plays the equal of his canvases.” Like Bearden, Wilson explores themes and motifs important to African-American culture, including trains (and the related migration), hands, birds, music and collage. (AugustWilson.net)
Past Wilson productions at Syracuse Stage include “Two Trains Running” (2013), “Radio Golf” (2011), “Fences” (2010 and 1991), “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” (2008), “Gem of the Ocean” (2007), “Jitney” (2002) and “The Piano Lesson” (1996).
The Syracuse Stage cast of “The Piano Lesson” includes nationally accomplished “Wilsonians” known for their work on the plays of August Wilson. Returning Syracuse Stage actors include Erika LaVonn as Bernice (Risa in “Two Trains Running”), G. Valmont Thomas as Wining Boy (Memphis in “Two Trains Running,” Roosevelt in “Radio Golf”), Stephen Tyrone Williams as Boy Willie (Cory in “Fences”), and Marcea Bond as Maretha (Belinda in “A Christmas Carol”).
They are joined by Allison Strickland as Grace (Seattle Shakespeare Company), Ken Robinson as Avery (Broadway productions of “Memphis” and “Baby It’s You!”), Derrick Lee Weeden as Doeker (Shakespeare Theatre Company DC, Berkeley Repertory Theatre), and Yaegel T. Welch as Lymon (Lincoln Center’s “Fly,” NBC’s “The Blacklist”).
The nationally acclaimed design team includes veterans of Syracuse Stage: scenic designer William Bloodgood (“The Glass Menagerie” and “The Whipping Man,” among others), costume designer Helen Q. Huang (“Two Trains Running” and “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”); lighting designer Geoff Korf (“Fences”), and sound designer Michael Keck (“The Glass Menagerie” and “The Whipping Man,” among others). The stage manager is Laura Jane Collins.