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A fresh look at August Wilson's first play, an intense story about cabdrivers in a black area of Pittsburgh

Wednesday, Mar 20 2002
August Wilson's first play, written during the Carter administration but revised in 1996, is about gypsy cabdrivers who serve a black part of Pittsburgh called the Hill District, which licensed Yellow cabdrivers ignore. Because Wilson has since turned the Hill District into a legendary American neighborhood (in his decade-by-decade cycle of plays about African-Americans in the 20th century), watching him explore this territory for the first time is part of the thrill of Jitney. The other part -- in this Broadway production -- is the sheer pleasure Anthony Chisholm, Willis Burks II, Roger Robinson, Keith Randolph Smith, and Stephen McKinley Henderson take in their roles. The head of the jitney station, Becker (Robinson), has built a modest life for himself in the District, but when his son Booster (Smith) gets out of jail, he questions that life in fierce, quasi-revolutionary language. Pittsburgh City Hall has also announced plans to "revive" the jitney station's block by tearing it down. David Gallo's set beautifully evokes the old station, with a ruined couch and ancient stamped-tin walls, hollow storefronts across the street, and huge Cadillacs going to seed by the curb. This play can be slack in the hands of weaker performers, but under Marion McClinton's direction the cast builds an emotional tension that becomes almost too much to bear.


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