Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

'Jitney' Offers a Vivid Ride

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

'Jitney' Offers a Vivid Ride

Article excerpt

"Jitney" was the first play August Wilson wrote in what was to become his monumental 10-work cycle about the African-American experience in each decade of the 20th Century.

And although Wilson revised it later, the 1979 effort bears the imprint of a young playwright who hadn't fully found his voice. There are moments of melodrama and sentimentality that seem borrowed from a common dramatic shelf.

However, the play, which opened in a spirited revival on Thursday night at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, directed by Ruben Santiago- Hudson, also has qualities found later in Wilson's best work, especially a vibrant awareness of the community he was writing about: its residents, their relationships and the flavorful stories they tell.

It's a reminder that before he became a playwright, Wilson was a poet.

The setting is a gypsy-cab office in a declining Pittsburgh neighborhood in 1977.

Designer David Gallo -- reprising the evocative scenery he mounted for the play's New York debut off-Broadway in 2000 -- has created a worn-looking but neat storefront space with big windows looking out on a street with cars at the curb.

The drivers, who wander in and out, serve a community ignored by legal cabs and eke out livings driving people to the store or to visit relatives.

They're the heart of the play, as they spin tales about life, women and the neighborhood's raffish residents.

There's the ambitious young driver, not incidentally named Youngblood (Andre Holland), whose nemesis is the middle-aged Turnbo (Michael Potts), a gossipy meddler who tries to steal Youngblood's girlfriend, Rena (Carra Patterson).

Fielding (a delightful Anthony Chisholm), an old-timer who speaks in a scratchy, high-pitched voice, is a confirmed drunk who hasn't seen his estranged wife in 22 years; Doub (Keith Randolph Smith) is quiet and solid, reluctantly opening up about the horrors he saw serving in the Korean War.

There's also Shealy (Harvy Blanks), the local numbers runner, a cheerful philosopher who drops in daily, dressed in a spiffy collection of leisure suits (designed by Toni-Leslie James). …

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