by Dalt Wonk
August Wilson’s Seven Guitars, recently given an exuberant production at Anthony Bean Community Theater, shows us African-American life in 1940s Pittsburgh. The play is part of Wilson’s decade-by-decade account of African-American life in the 20th century — a project that earned him two Pulitzers and other awards.
Wilson takes his time, and after spending nearly three hours with the residents of Pittsburgh’s Hill District, you feel you’re part of the neighborhood. One of Wilson’s particular strengths is creating intriguing, troubled characters.
John Grimsley’s tasteful set shows a rundown backyard with an iron water pump. A group of people are talking about a funeral for a man named Floyd. Some say they saw angels carry him to heaven and others scoff at the idea.
The play is a flashback look at Floyd Barton (Roscoe Reddix), a blues singer and guitarist who recorded a hit song. But before it was released, he landed in jail on bogus charges.
Louise (Gwendolyne Foxworth) is a sage and skeptical matriarch to the group. Canewell (Will Williams) and Red Carter (Sean Beard) were sidemen in Floyd’s band. Vera (Coti Gayles) was left behind when Floyd went to Chicago to record his song, but he tried to get her back when he returned. King Hedley (Alfred Aubrey) hangs around and seems lost, complaining about money a recurring dream tells him he’s meant to receive.
Late in the play, the attractive and insouciant Ruby (Giselle R. Nakhid) arrives. She’s pregnant and decides to sleep with Hedley and tell him he’s the father.
There are many moving scenes and a sprinkling of humor. There also are perplexing symbols, including a rooster who crows throughout the play — suggesting male frustration or displaced country dwellers in an urban landscape?
Floyd’s life was anything but easy. He stirs trouble when he tries to get his guitar out of hock to return to Chicago and record another song. It kicks off a series of bad consequences that leave Floyd dead.
Anthony Bean directed a talented cast and elicited captivating performances. It’s a long show, but it stays with you long after the house lights come up.