Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Remarkable Ride to US Wasteland

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Remarkable Ride to US Wasteland

Article excerpt

Byline: NICHOLAS DE JONGH

Jitney **

WHAT a stealthy, emotionally overwhelming spell August Wilson, America's best-regarded black playwright, casts in Jitney.

Roger Robinson's father and Keith Randolph Smith's son blaze a trail of fury and desolation when they meet after 20 years apart. In Marion McClinton's finely pitched production - fresh from Broadway - these performances are outstanding.

They possess a power and conviction that's unmatched upon the London stage. I was bowled over. Yet at first it looks and sounds as if Jitney is just a dramatised documentary, an evening of meticulous, medium-grey realism, an eavesdropper's view of life in an unlicensed Pittsburgh taxicab office where the telephone always rings.

David Gallo's fine stage set plunges you into a twilight world of American taxidriving: the office seems to be sited under a motorway. The view from this musty wasteland, where you can almost smell the scent of decay, is of boarded-up shops and industrial chimneys. Outside, two elderly cars are permanently parked or dumped. The black drivers, obedient to the imperious telephone, come and go, swapping unpleasantries. At least I assume so, since at first I sometimes needed surtitles to make sense of the thick Pittsburgh brogue. But gradually the words and action begin to make full sense. It's the Seventies and Jitney's quintet of drivers are outsiders and losers, impoverished black Americans who have lacked education opportunities or the chance to enjoy the peace and plenty the USA enjoyed until 11 September.

Jitney is a panorama of life in the very slow lane where everyone plays the blues.

Wilson beautifully modulates the action. All of an unsettling sudden the routine office banter is disrupted by the outbreak of hostilities between the drivers. Desperation does not lie very deep below the surface. …

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