Whenever the anniversary of a famous author's birth or death reaches a significant milestone, critics and creative types may stop, look back, and think about a particular artist's cultural contribution.
Some of the plays combine the two, such as Matthew Lopez's The Whipping Man (the company's third-best-selling production ever), Danai Gurira's The Convert, and Will Power's Fetch Clay, Make Man -- all extremely well done and well reviewed.
The superlative performances in The Actors' Group production of Ma Rainey's Black Bottom were so convincing during opening weekend that when Ma Rainey halted the recording session to demand Coca-Cola from her white producer, a theatergoer left his audience seat to hand her his personal soda can.
This film is a beautiful legacy. It sheds light on a very gifted man who, like many creative people, was raised under difficult circumstances in an underserved area of Pittsburgh. All of his plays were "doors" into the black experience, and from many eras of the American story.
There was only moderate hollerin' from the audience at the Monday night preview of Holler If Ya Hear Me, the Tupac Shakur jukebox musical at the drastically altered Palace. We could hear them, yes, and loudly; but we couldn't make out much of what they were singing or saying.
I first saw Wilson's play during its 1987 pre-Broadway tryout at the Curran Theatre in San Francisco with James Earl Jones in the lead role. At the time, I found it difficult to appreciate Wilson's play.
Some things are indisputable. August Wilson is on the short list of America's greatest playwrights (along with Eugene O'Neill, Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller and Edward Albee). And Signature Theatre has a special affinity for his work.
Did August Wilson deliberately place The Piano Lesson in 1936, because that was the same Great Depression year Gone With the Wind was published? Did he intend it as a counter-balance to the version of slavery and its legacy depicted in Margaret Mitchell's best-seller?
Jitney, set in the '70s, seems on its surface to be specific and limited in scope, revolving around the lives of black men working at a 'jitney' or 'gypsy' car service in the city, but its themes are universal.