Friday, October 31, 2008

August Wilson Legacy Saluted in the SF Bay

This month in the San Francisco Bay Area for the first time there are three plays celebrating the legacy of August Wilson: Piano Lesson at Laney College Theatre, Radio Golf at TheatreWorks in Palo Alto or Mountain View and Joe Turner Come and Gone at Berkeley Repretory Theatre. Of the three two close this weekend: Radio Golf tomorrow November 1 and Radio Golf Sunday, November 2. The Berkeley Rep production opens this weekend.

August Wilson in his ten play cycle, which ended with Radio Golf and opened with Gem of the Ocean, chronicles the history of black America from the perspective of the residents in Hill District of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania--his boyhood home. By keeping the location stable, this extended saga where people come and go, the principle characters often reappearing older and wiser, one sees how no matter where one is in this not so vast terrain we call home--America, somethings don't change: racism, poverty, political and social disenfranchisement and the toll this takes on our lives. He shows in all his plays how hard we've worked for equality, a place illusive and once achieved as in the case of the principle characters in Radio Golf, how easy it is in one decision to lose.

The tension between the past and the present, something that keeps Boy Willie and his sister Berniece at odds in The Piano Lesson, something that worries Hammond in Radio Golf, his decision what makes the play a fitting close to the 100 year cycle. And then Joe Turner, a burden one family carries, one many of us carry when history is forgotten.

The protagonist returns from capture--illegal reenslavement to his family and no one recognizes him. His story reminds me of the many men and women captured in the prison industrial complex, their dilemma upon return to try to catch up or recapture those lost years, those lost moments and what happens when they find out it's not possible.

Most persons behind bars don't get visitors and its this isolation that makes one crazier than the actual bars and chains. It is this dilemma that proves the hardest for the protagonist in Joe Turner to escape from ultimately once his body is free.

He's like the ghost black America has to embrace. He represents the Maafa, the Black Holocaust we have to love into wellness, into wholeness. He is a vital part of ourselves we forgot we lost so used to a paraplegic state we've become.

These symbols are represented in people and in material things like the piano Berniece wants to hold onto and that her brother Boy Willie wants to sell; it's the house with the red door about to be demolished on the hill in what is on the list as blighted property because it's been abandoned for so long.

The red door/little house on the hill and the piano, and the stranger are metaphors for an aspect of our lives we can't forget or let go of otherwise they will haunt us until we do--not just black people but America. What Wilson's plays ultimately do is show all of us that the black centennial depicted in his great movement is an American centennial. Black history is American history and these characters reflect ultimately what it means to be human in this journey of the spirit.

I also want to let my audience know that the cast from Radio Golf are guests on my radio show this morning, 8-10 a.m. on


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