Friday, February 10, 2017

Broadway Theater Review: Jitney TOP PICK

Courtesy of Boneau Bryan Brown
It Took A While for This August Wilson Play to Make Its Broadway Debut, but it Was Worth the Wait
By Lauren Yarger
All of Pulitzer-Prize winner August Wilson's Pittsburgh Cycle plays have made it to Broadway at one time or another -- some more than once-- but Jitney, which is the eighth in the series, written inn 1979, is getting its debut in a sensational production by Manhattan Theatre Club.

A talented ensemble, directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson, who won a Tony for his performance in WIlson's Seven Guitars, brings together a group of jitney (illegal taxi cab) drivers in 1977 Pittsburgh in an emotional ride that makes us laugh while running over our hearts.

The men drive for Becker (the always excellent John Douglas Thompson) out of a run-down station (shabbily designed and filled with clutter by Set Designer David Gallo) in Pittsgurgh's Hill district. Regular taxis won't venture there, so customers, like hotel doorman Philmore (Ray Anthony Thomas), have to rely on the jitney car service.

For Darnell Youngblood (Andre Holland), the job is one of two he works to try to buy a house to provide a fresh start for his family: girlfriend, Rena (Carra Patterson), and their young son. He wants it to be a surprise, but Rena thinks he is cheating on her again because he never is at home and keeps taking food money to pay unspecified debts.

Also driving for Becker are Doub (Keith Randolph Smith), a Korean War veteran who knows a thing or two about discrimination, Turnbo (a very humorous Michael Potts), who is always getting in everyone's business, and Fielding (Anthony Chisholm), whose alcoholism might get him fired. They interact as well with Shealy, (Harvey Blanks), who uses the phone at the station to take numbers.

The men's everyday existence is interrupted, however, when the city decides to board up the station as part of its urban renewal efforts, and when Becker's son, Booster (Brandon j. Dirden) is released from prison after a 20-year sentence for the murder of a white woman who wrongly accused him of rape. Booster hopes to reconcile with the father who feels his son threw away all of the opportunities he worked so hard to provide. Beyond that, Becker is unable to forgive Booster for not being there for his dying mother.

While all of Wilson's Pittsburgh Cycle plays provide a glimpse into the 20th-Century African-American experience, Jitney feels contemporary, despite the fashions by Costume Designer Toni-Leslie James or mentions of cab fares topping out at $4 that remind us we are in the '70s.

Santiago-Hudson keeps the house lights up at the beginning as the men assemble. We can't help but feel we are sitting around the station with them. We grow comfortable sharing their lives and banter. Perhaps it is because all of the men, in one way or another, are trying to heal wounds of the past while stepping into an uncertain future - like most of America today.

A gripping scene where Becker rejects Booster opens a wound that can't be healed and is so full of raw emotion that there are audible gasps from the audience.
It is due to fine writing, acting and direction (with uncanny attention to detail) all bursting into emotional fire on stage. It also might have to do, again, with recognizing some of the bottled up emotions we are experiencing in modern-day America.

Booster's justification of his actions, with no apparent understanding of right from wrong or consideration for others -- while seeming for all intents and purposes a nice man --  sounds frightening like so many  voicing their opinions about politics today. Youngblood and Rena's discovery of what it really takes to make a relationship work is touching and hopeful.

This is one of those shows that makes us sit up and take notice as though it is telegraphing, "You are seeing a tremendous and important piece of theater here. You might want to see this one again."

Jitney plays at MTC’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th St., NYC. Tickets: manhattantheatreclub.com

Additional credits;
The creative team for August Wilson’s Jitney includes David Gallo (scenic design); Toni-Leslie James (costume design); Jane Cox (lighting design), Darron L West (sound design); Bill Sims, Jr. (original music); Robert-Charles Vallance (hair and makeup design) and Thomas Schall (fight director).

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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