Through December 2|
KING HEDLEY II Paul Robeson Theatre/African American Cultural Center
August Wilson’s “King Hedley II” has two significant problems, while continuing to look at Black life in his old home neighborhood in Pittsburgh.
The play continues to need some stiff editing and it’s a little tough to follow because much of it depends on having seen Wilson’s “Seven Guitars,” which I haven’t.
Based on a long-ago, long conversation with Wilson, that’s probably irrelevant to his overall goal of looking at a century in the life of African-Americans.
Because of a couple of strong performances in the Paul Robeson Theatre production, “King Hedley” is absolutely worth seeing.
Director Ed Smith has moved everything onto Harlan Penn’s single set, the backyard behind the homes of Stool Pigeon (Al Garrison) and Ruby (Renita Shadwick).
Stool Pigeon is a religion nut and hoarder, prone to seeing the show’s events in in Biblical terms.
Ruby is a woman who has dealt with the death of her sister and raised Hugh Davis’ King Hedley II.
He’s an ex-con who is looking to steal enough to go legit, with a video rental store (This is 1985).
He and partner Mister (Jon Cesar) have a new scam, selling stolen refrigerators, cheap.
Their ethics and morals leave a bit to be desired but they are willing to actually work to sell the refrigerators (and pull a jewelry store robbery).
There is also King Hedley’s squeeze Tonya (Christina Foster), who doesn’t approve of much of this.
Many of the issues for all of them surface when Elmore (Vincenzo L. McNeill) shows up again.
He’s also looking for the main chance, with few scruples about what he does to get ahead.
Wilson has way too many plots and sub-plots in the show and getting rid of some when he was writing two-decades ago would have helped trim the script.
Anyway, secrets surface and tragedy ensues.
This script is interesting because the mood of doom is set in the first seconds of the show with Stool Pigeon sounding off and that mood never goes away.
Think of this crew as the bottom of the economic barrel, while Mister and King want to move more toward the middle of upper crust, to have a legit business and live in a better neighborhood.
There is a price for that and they are certainly willing to pay it.
The difficulty is that they don’t know how high the price is.
The production has a minor problem which is undoubtedly easing.
McNeill was called in as a replacement two days before the show opened and he was still on book for when we saw the show, although he was clearly making progress toward throwing away the script pages.
Even so, he had the moves for the part of the sleazy Elmore.
This is all a tale of people scuffling to get by, making the best of bad situations.
It actually makes for interesting theater, although it takes too long.
Smith has a strong script and a strong cast, particularly Garrison, McNeill and Davis (in one of those strange roles he’s known for).
See “King Hedley II,” but be prepared for doom and tragedy, at length.
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