GOhome EVENTScalendar GOhear GOview GOread GOplaces DOmore SOUNDcheck


Local bands
Get band listed

 

 
  » Contact Us
  » Advertise With Us

 
  » Classifieds
  » Newspaper Ads

 

 

Concert Reviews:
August Wilson's "Jitney" is a ride worth taking at Music Hall
 

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

» See more SOUND CHECK

It's not easy to do August Wilson right on stage.



Fortunately "Jitney," running through Saturday, Nov. 16, at Detroit's Music Hall Center, is right more often than not.



The late Wilson's 10 plays are dense and philosophical, putting more perspective and wisdom in one scene than some playwrights achieve in their entire ouvre. "Jitney" -- first staged in 1982 and brought to Broadway, finally, with Tony Award-winning success two years ago by Wayne State University alumnus Ruben Santiago-Hudson -- is layered with themes about urban decay, racial inequity, mental health, alcoholism and military veterans' PTSD.



And that's all on top of "basic" relationship issues between man and woman, father and son.



"Jitney," set in the dilapidated headquarters of a Pittsburgh gypsy cab service facing closure during the fall of 1977, covers all that over the course of its two hours and 15 minutes (plus intermission). Rest assured his words --blending quick and often humorous trash talk exchanges with lengthy, and angsty, passages -- are the star of the show, capable of covering any sins and shortcomings in delivery. They also fill in a mass of detail in lieu of live-action staging.



But the production's performance is governed by the nine-member cast's handling of each. The general rule of thumb for this staging of "Jitney" is the more actors on stage, the better. The play elevates when Amari Cheaton's Vietnam vet Youngblood, Brian D. Coats' annoyingly intrusive Philmore, Anthony Chisolm's struggling Fielding and Keith Randolph Smith's salt-of-the-earth Doub are verbally -- and sometimes more -- sparring in the office, their give and take interrupted by pay phone calls for ride orders. Harvey Blanks' numbers runner Shealy provides quick-hit comic relief. This is the soul of the show, and the actors' largely make the complex but ultimately devoted relationships feel genuine.



But elsewhere "Jitney" occasionally falls victim to a tendency for the actors to orate rather than converse -- an understandable challenge given the nature of Wilson's richly written script. Nowhere is this truer than in Act 1's closing scene, in which shop owner Becker (Steven Anthony Jones) and his son Booster (Francois Battiste) encounter each other after the latter spent 20 years in prison for murder, without any contact from his father. It's some of Wilson's finest and most poignant and powerful writing, but the opening night at Music Hall found Jones and Battiste talking at the words more than each other.



Jones did fare better during the second act, however, as his Becker shares some valuable and even surprising life lessons with Cheaton's Youngblood.



Ultimately "Jitney," like most of Wilson's work, finds purpose and even joy in life's struggles and tragedies. It's a thoughtful immersion into difficult and complex issues -- demanding attention but certainly a ride well worth taking.



August Wilson's "Jitney" runs through Saturday, Nov. 16 at Music Hall Center, 350 Madison Ave., Detroit. $59 and $69. 313-887-8500 or broadwayindetroit.com.

Web Site: www.broadwayindetroit.com

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



GO & DO Michigan, an Entertainment Portal
http://www.goanddomichigan.com
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the written permission of the copyright holder.

© Copyright MediaNews Group, Inc. | Our Publications | About Our Ads | Privacy Policy/Terms of Service | Cookie Policy