It would be easy for a director to lose control of the titanic forces simmering underneath the surface of the play, but Santiago-Hudson keeps them under control until the end, when they simply cannot be constrained.
Presented by Signature Theatre Company at the Irene Diamond Stage at the Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 W. August Wilson’s 1990 Pulitzer Prize winning The Piano Lesson is a brilliant drama filled with richly developed realistic characters that represent the African-American experience in the USA circa 1936 in Pittsburgh, PA. Boy Willie wants to break from  the past by forging a new life through the freedom of land ownership.  Playwright August Wilson vividly weaves the myth and folklore of the South including the belief in spirits and ghosts.
See this show and discover the roots of a unique part of the American Experience as remembered by a family that suffered in slavery. New Feature–Spoken ReviewsWith improved "text-to-speech technology," we are experimenting with audio versions of our reviews. In THE PIANO LESSON, now receiving a masterfully powerful revival at The Signature Theatre, that ceremony is a blues seance determined to exercise the demons of slavery and family strife, ghosts that will not leave without great struggle. THE PIANO LESSON belongs to Wilson’s “Century Cycle,” a career-spanning project in which he wrote one play to represent the African-American experience in each decade of the twentieth century. Set in 1936, THE PIANO LESSON (which earned the playwright his second Pulitzer) occupies a heated liminal space between the reality of slavery and the struggles for independence. But Berniece has no intention of allowing the piano to be sold, and the rest of the family, Doaker and his brother Whining Boy (Chuck Cooper), aren’t too crazy about the prospect either.
THE PIANO LESSON, then, is a deeply introspective examination of a family straddling a tumultuous line between the past and the future, quarrelling over whether to dwell with the ghosts of history or to exercise them as a means to a rising future. Director Ruben Santiago-Hudson has proven himself again and again to have a powerfully insightful eye and ear for the heart of August Wilson, and he conducts the seance of this PIANO LESSON with a nuanced balance of subtlety and vigor. This rhythm is most alive in the wonderful musical interludes, including Cooper’s two turns at the piano, but its apotheosis is when Doaker, Whining Boy, Lyman, and Boy Willie sing a four-part a capella blues number while pounding out a beat around the kitchen table. Like its playwright, THE PIANO LESSON never shies from indulging the ghosts of history that demand reckoning, but neither does it give in to those ghosts. Patrick Maley is an Assistant Professor of English at Centenary College in Hackettstown NJ, where he teaches courses in Shakespeare, Drama, the Bible, and Classics. Some of Boy Willie’s convulsions in his final struggle are a bit over the top, and the special effects in the climactic scene are underwhelming.
This play is a part of the ten-cycle work each by Wilson covering each decade in the 20th Century. We also see the influence of music, drinking and philandering by some African-American men through the exploits of Wining Boy (Alfred H.

Even when his characters are not singing, they are maneuvering their language through a free form prose poetry that blurs the distinction between word and song. It is a remarkable and insightful project that traces a mostly arduous journey out of the shadows of slavery and into a fight to establish community, accountability, and the strength to stand upright and proud in harsh social terrain.
Defined as they are by family and genealogy, the play and its characters—separated from slavery by only a generation or two—are in constant dialogue with the ghosts of slaves and their owners. Williams) and his niece Berniece (Roslyn Ruff), the play opens as Berniece’s brother Boy Willie (Brandon J. For the piano used to belong to the Sutters, and its body was hand-carved by Boy Willie’s great grandfather as a kind of totem to tell the family’s history.
The play and its long speeches are never rushed, as Santiago-Hudson allows his actors the space to dedicate themselves to storytelling (Williams’s Doaker shines particularly in this aspect), but the moments of high tension and conflict are equally as free to boil over. This moment captures masterfully the blues’ engagement with and expression of pain and despair in search of a momentary release, an aesthetic so central to Wilson’s work. It is a play that looks to the rituals of blues, family history, and personal ambition as a means to escape the oppressive shadow of slavery and its violent aftermath, suggesting ultimately that the only way to exercise the demons of the past might very well be to engage them directly. He holds a PhD in English and MAs in English and Classical Studies from Indiana University, Bloomington. Boy Willie wants to sell it so that he can buy back land in Mississippi, but Berniece refuses to let the piano go even though she never plays it.
The action reaches a thundering climax during a ritual of purification that shakes both the house and the family to its foundations. Dutton brought to the role of Boy Willie in the play’s original 1990 production, he more than makes up for it with vitality and sincerity.
But these are only slight blemishes on a powerful production that does justice to Wilson’s profound writing and deserves a longer life on Broadway. August Wilson uses naturalistic dialogue rich in Southern idioms and slave folklore to tell his stories.
The effect is to give the play a sense of ritual, moving its events out of their seemingly everyday context and into the space of ceremony.
As such, the play investigates the struggle of family and community to move forward while reconciling the horrors of the not-so-distant past.
What’s more, the family owns it now only because Boy Willie’s father stole it out of the Sutter home, an offence for which he was hunted down and killed. Boy Willie embodies this play’s conflict between history and the drive for the future most fully, a conflict that Dirden’s kinetically physical performance allows to enflame this character.

He researches and writes widely on drama, theater, and critical theory, with a particular interest in modern and contemporary American and Irish drama, as well as tragedy of all ages.
Berniece and her brother have been at odds since her husband died in a botched lumber theft that was instigated by Boy Willie. August Wilson’s was an American treasure and The Piano Lesson is a master work of theatrical art.
Nobody in this play had been born into slavery, but they bear its deep scars in the proximity of their family history, and they are attended constantly by its ghosts. The two have driven up from the south in the hopes of creating a financial windfall by selling a truckload of watermelons to rich northerners. Berniece insists that the piano will not go anywhere because it is infused with the tears and blood of their family history, while Boy Willie sees the piano as a ticket to advancement in the world. Dirden bounds around the stage with an energy that seems to scream for release, as his determined speeches seize upon Boy Willie’s obstinate insistence to move forward in his life.
His scholarship appears in academic journals such as Modern Drama, New Hibernia Review, and The Eugene O'Neill Review. However, Ronald Conner’s spirited, gregarious and sincere portrait of Boy Willie anchors the show. The play stages a tenuous struggle to remember the pain of the past while moving beyond its immobilizing oppression.
Boy Willie needs money because he has the opportunity to buy farm land that belonged to the recently deceased Sutter, whose grandfather owned the ancestors of Boy Willie and the rest of the play’s central family. The play traces the rising tension over the piano’s future as family allegiances begin to splinter.
The character with a drive for more out of life than society will allow him is an important favorite of Wilson’s, and Dirden here captures that character’s yearning at its most robust and lively. Boy Willie figures that he has saved one part of the money to buy the farm, that he can make a second part on watermelon profits, and that the final part can come from selling the piano he and his sister inherited from their father.

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