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Review: Jitney

Dalt Wonk on August Wilson's Jitney, now onstage at the Anthony Bean Community Theater


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Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson said he didn't write political dramas, although there are obvious political aspects in his 10 plays chronicling the decades of the 20th century. Each installment reflects the African-American struggle against racial injustice, but Wilson focuses on his characters, who are fully realized individuals with particular faults and conflicts.

  Set in Pittsburgh in the late 1970s, Jitney presents intense personal and social conflicts. A jitney is a gypsy cab, and the entire play takes place in a "car station," a garage for unlicensed cabs. Becker (Will Williams) runs the place, and his drivers play checkers, grumble, joke, gossip and get into fights while waiting for the phone to ring.

  There are quieter moments of humor and tenderness, but the play packs a wallop. Becker's son Booster (Sam Malone) is being released following a 20-year jail term for killing a white woman. He was condemned to death, but the sentence was commuted. Becker never visited him and Booster comes to the car station to confront him. The sparks fly and Williams and Malone handle the explosive scene with poise.

  Booster despises his father for humbling himself to their landlord, which Becker says was necessary to keep a roof over the boy's head. Becker calls his son a murderer and blames him for the death of his wife because of her heartbreak. Racism is a frequent subject but not the central one. Various subplots are portrayed well by Alfred Aubry, Donald Lewis, Harold X. Evans, Steven Burke, Desmond M. Ables, Coti Gayles and Samuel Johnson III.

  Jitney comes to a climax when the city moves to close and demolish the car station. Becker tells the cabbies to resist and keep driving their gypsy cabs until a bulldozer arrives. They are soon left to fight without him and the drivers look for answers and direction.

  Anthony Bean (assisted by Gwendolyne Foxworth) directs the play with a sure hand. John Grimsley designed the apt set. — Dalt Wonk


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