The Court Theatre continues its 2013-2014 season with” Seven Guitars” written by August Wilson and Directed by Ron OJ Parson. August Wilson is a prominent black playwright who does not need an introduction. He is best known for his ten –play “Pittsburgh Cycle”, nine of which take place in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, the neighborhood where Wilson grew up. This group of plays, each set in a different decade, brought success and notoriety to Wilson, earning numerous awards, including a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony.
Seven Guitars is the complex and tragic story of Floyd “Schoolboy” Barton, a blues guitarist with feet of clay who died with fame and celebrity just beyond his reach. As August Wilson explained, each character in this play is a guitar; strumming their own blues of pain, sadness, hope, dreams, and redemption. He weaves a story that embodies universal themes: family, the pursuit of a dream, the willingness to take a chance, the pang of loss, and the triumph of those who continue on despite the loss.
It begins in 1948 in the backyard of a Pittsburg tenement (a truly authentic scenic design by Regina Garcia) where Floyd’s friends gather to mourn his passing. It had only been a few weeks since Floyd’s first hit record had begun playing on the radio and he was scheduled to return to the recording studio in Chicago. The story unfolds in a series of flashbacks that shows us Wilson’s signature voice at its richest, exploring the disappointingly dissonant harmonies sometimes found in the circular nature of hope, violence, fate, and justice.
Kevin Roston Jr. strongly portrays Floyd as a high spirited, naïve, always broke, but always optimistic, promising blues guitarist. He has some talent; having cut a record but hasn’t yet realized his fame and fortune. He is arrested for vagrancy because he has no money, is cheated out of his record earnings and work house wages, and loses his electric guitar to the pawn shop; nothing is going his way. Ultimately, he is gobbled up by a society that shows no mercy, preying on those with hopes and dreams before dashing them on the rocks of despair.
His girlfriend Vera, played by Ebony Wimbs, must decide if Floyd is worth being with, since he is not the stay at home type. She has been down this road before and is hardened to avoid the pain. She loves him but knows the risk. Will she take a chance?
The landlord of the building is Louise; an older women with a sharp wit, who is the mother image and conscience of the community. Her place is the “safe house” where everyone can gather and is the center of the play. She is played by the Tony nominated Felicia Fields, who brings her big voice and great timing to the role.
Louise’s niece, Ruby, is portrayed by Erynn Mackenzie. Ruby arrives from Alabama, young, sexy, and secretly pregnant. She is the lady in red, vivacious but vulnerable, still learning but already wise beyond her years.
Floyd’s friends include Red Carter, the drummer in his band, played by Ronald Conner, who likes the simpler past and Canewell, played by Jerrod Haynes, who is prophetic and energetic and has had an eye on Vera.
And then there is King Hedley, played by Allen Gilmore. King Hedley is 59, has tuberculosis, and is obsessed by the idea that black men will overcome all of the wrongs of the past and rise to their rightful status as kings. He believes the white society has a plan against him. Gilmore’s performance of the half crazed Hedley is often frightening and keeps you guessing as to what he will do next.
In the end we find out how Floyd met his fate and how each element of the story, no matter how small, contributes to the history of each character’s life.
Ron OJ Parson uses a velvet hand in directing this production, allowing the very capable company of actors to be open and natural in portraying their roles. He has integrated the blues, sound design by Joshua Horvath, richly into the texture of the play. The result is a masterful work that feels real, not forced, and very well paced. Parson allows the genius of Wilson to surface and gives the audience a product that lets them feel and understand the connection between the everyday and the ethereal as Wilson intended.
Court Theater on the University of Chicago campus
Box Office: 5535 S. Ellis Avenue, Chicago
Schedule: Wed. & Thurs: 7:30PM
Saturdays: 3:00PM & 8:00PM
Sundays: 2:30PM & 7:30PM
Parking: Plenty of free parking next to the theater
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