Center Stage: Theatre Conspiracy’s ‘Seven Guitars’ impressive
August Wilson’s “Seven Guitars” is a tragi/comedy and the seventh of this author’s “American Century Cycle, which charts the African-American experience through each decade of the 20th century.” Seven Guitars was unveiled in the summer of 1994 at the Eugene O’Neill Theater. This play is a rich tell by seven exceptionally, vivid and diverse characters eager to spin their stories and weave their tales.
This seventh offering in Wilson’s decade by decade plays is one of the most accessible and enjoyable as the folklore it explores, and as musical as the blues music that infuses it part murder mystery, a dark elegy that is a memory play, also a bawdy comedy that depicts the events leading up to the untimely death of Floyd Barton (majestically portrayed by actor Roosevelt Stewart (a 28-year-old minister of music and youth pastor, musician, song writer and producer from Fort Myers.)
The action of the play takes place as most of Wilson’s Century Plays do in the backyard of Pittsburgh’s Hill District. The time is 1948, seven friends have gathered to mourn for a blues guitarist/singer Floyd, who died just as his career was on the verge of taking off. The story that follows is a flashback to the busy week leading up to Floyd’s sudden and unnatural death.
Wilson’s language and style are almost biblical in richness and sweep, with characterizations of the black community which are also bigger than life.
Floyd has just been released from a Chicago jail after serving time on a trumped-up vagrancy charge for, “worthlessness” a term used to keep out of work, unsettled blacks from settling into this city. Floyd has come back home to Pittsburgh, to retrieve his guitar from a pawn shop as well as convince his ex -girlfriend Vera (played by talented Shaunte Manuel) to forgive him, and come to Chicago with him, as he fulfills his contract to cut a new record for the company that launched his original hit record.
Most of the play follows Floyd’s circle of friends and neighbors (the seven voices or guitars) as they spin a rich tale of the deck that is stacked against them by “whitey.” They address what they’ve lost, as well as what they still envision, fulfilling the “Great American Dream.”
The remainder of Wilson’s richly drawn cast of characters are as follows: classically trained, Equity Actor, Derek Lively – as Canewell, a quick tempered, harmonica player in Floyd’s band and one of his closest friends Curt Sheard, another Fort Myers resident, new to the performing arts till he made his debut last year in Wilson’s “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.” Sheard shines as Red Carter the drummer in Floyd’s band and another close buddy.
Hedley as portrayed by Cicero McCarter is most effective in interpreting this many facetted older male who rents room at Louise’s tenement. Hedley is openly critical and suspicious of the white society that oppresses him and despite his advanced case of tuberculosis. refuses to enter a sanitarium.
Tijuana Clemons shines as Louise the independent, lively landlady of the tenant house where the action takes place wiggly seductress Ruby (Louise’s niece) Is given a perfect take by wickedly wonderful Cantrella Canady. Ruby arrives at the Aunt Louise’s house in the middle of the play, from Alabama. Her wily ways may have resulted in the death of a jealous lover.
The set design by Bill Taylor couldn’t have been better as was the raw and insightfully, artful direction by Sonya McCarter. As directed by McCarter we understand that it is Floyd’s ambitious drive, that leads to the slow destruction of hope and drives this play; making “Seven Guitars” the haunting play that it is. The entire production is unerringly poignant as played by the fine actors in the “Seven Guitars” of the title. These actor’s abilities are confident and creative thereby fulfilling the conceptions of this award-winning playwright at the very top of his form. It just doesn’t get better than that.
Call the Box office now 239-939 2787 for dates, times and tickets. Seven Guitars plays until Nov. 18. Remind ’em when you phone Marsha sent you.