I am an ignoramus. I admit this with joy and gusto, because there’s a hell of a lot of life and culture and stuff out there, and it’s tough to absorb it all in the short amount of time I’ve been allotted on this goofy little planet. Being ignorant in itself isn’t bad, as long as one is willing to overcome that ignorance (and, God knows, I’m trying).
Especially when it comes to other people’s stories. The more people I meet, the more I know, and the more I can do. Sometimes those stories come straight from someone’s mouth over beers or milkshakes, and sometimes they come off a page through squiggly bits of black ink. Sometimes they’re through recordings of songs or through bits that rearrange themselves into pictures. And sometimes, those stories are told out loud by people who are borrowing someone’s life for a few hours and giving you the opportunity to watch. And that’s what I did last night.
I’d heard of August Wilson before he died last year, but it wasn’t until August of 2005 when he announced he had terminal liver cancer that I learned about the Pittsburgh Cycle. And even an ignoramus like me who thinks that modern theater drifts more toward wankery than storytelling could appreciate the scope of Wilson’s work. Ten plays about the African American experience in the 20th Century? Hell, I’d go see that.
In a word? Go.
The cast is stunning. I’ve been a fan of Laurence Fishburne and Angela since I was a kid and saw them tear up the screen in Boyz N The Hood, and I had a bit of a fanboy moment when they came on stage. The fanboy shut the hell up and paid attention once they started talking, laying out Wilson’s dialogue like musicians. I think it helped Wilson’s writing that he was a poet, too; the words and phrases don’t just sound natural, they sound like music. It flowed, up and down, back and forth, whipsawing the audience from tears of laughter to gut-wrenching silence.
And the side players? Man, I am never going to say a harsh word about Orlando Jones ever, not after his turn as Gabriel. I think any other actor would have turned him into too much of a buffoon or a holy clown; Jones hit the right notes (again, the musicality of Wilson’s play) as a brain-damaged veteran trying to keep his head together. He was funny and heart-breaking and had such a strong…well, vocal ability is probably the best way to put it, ’cause he was able to shape his words into this odd, mush-mouthed diction one moment and sound clear as a bell the next.
And Bryan Clark (man, if he isn’t playing Troy Maxson in thirty years, I’ll eat my foot), Kadeem Hardison (yes, Dwayne Wayne himself) and Wendell Pierce (my favorite actor from The Wire, Pierce always gives off this happy-go-lucky attitude that covers a steel-plated resolve, and his Bono is no different) were all just as good. It was so good to see a group of talented actors bring a piece to life, and…
…and that language. Good God, but August Wilson knew his shit. The words just flow, no speech sounding like oratory, every emotion just as heart-felt as if it were real people loving and hating each other. I will never know what it’s like to be black in America, but Wilson gives us honkies a peek. He also reminds us that we all have fathers and mothers and responsibilities and shortcomings and…
…and you know what? Just go and buy the tickets. Really. You won’t regret it. Go.