Theater Review: 'Jitney'

The second show of Broadway's 2017 spring season opened Thursday night. NY1's Roma Torre reviews two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson's "Jitney."

"Jitney" is the last of August Wilson’s 20th century cycle plays to appear on Broadway.  Each of the late writer’s ten plays depict a different decade in Pittsburgh’s largely segregated Hill District. “Jitney” is set in 1977 but like all of the other works, it speaks with an eloquence that transcends time and place.  

David Gallo’s meticulously designed jitney office sets the scene perfectly.  It’s rundown and yet functional as we watch the motley group of cab drivers come and go with each call for a ride. 

They have little in common except a sense that they’re not getting nearly as much out of life as what they put in. Opportunities are few while hardships are many and no matter what they do, these struggling men just can’t get a break.  But they do survive and despite the seeming monotony of their downbeat lives there’s something almost musical in the way that Wilson merges prose and poetry in their interactions. 

And as portrayed by an excellent ensemble, the characters come to vivid life. Among them, Michael Potts as Turnbo, delivering a staccato volley of gossip and innuendo. 

Anthony Chisholm, a longtime veteran of Wilson’s plays, slows the rhythm as the alcoholic Fielding; Andre Holland, is the aptly named Youngblood carrying a frenetic melody. And at the very center of the story is the discordant clash between upright Becker and his ex-con son Booster. As performed by the phenomenal John Douglas Thompson and Brandon J. Dirden, the first act finale ranks among the most memorably riveting scenes I’ve ever witnessed in a theatre.

August Wilson may be a master interpreter of the black experience in America, but his plays more often than not evoke the gray areas of life. And how fortunate to have Ruben Santiago-Hudson in the director’s chair, a frequent collaborator who recognizes, more than almost anyone else, the universal themes in Wilson’s plays that sing to us all. 

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