Monday, January 21, 2019

August Wilson's Life Lessons

How I Learned What I Learned

Steven Anthony Jones as August Wilson (photo: Kevin Berne)

By August Wilson
Directed by Margo Hall
Featuring Steven Anthony Jones
In partnership with Lorraine Hansberry Theatre and Ubuntu Theater Project

Marin Theatre Company
397 Miller Avenue, Mill Valley CA

Jan 10 – Feb 3 2019

How I Learned What I Learned is August Wilson’s last play and an invitation to sit and visit with the Pulitzer Prize-winning raconteur as he regales us with stories about his life as a young writer in the Hill District of Pittsburgh. Directed by the esteemed Margo Hall, Steven Anthony Jones steps into the soul of Wilson to recount the life and career of the playwright who magnified the voice and form of the African American experience via his American Century Cycle, a series of plays that include Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Jitney, Fences and others.

Steven Anthony Jones (photo: Kevin Berne)

In front of a wall of paper sheets, Jones dips and swaggers into the well of stories, memories, beliefs, and jokes that became the rich reservoir for Wilson’s creativity. He talks about his mother Daisy Wilson who insisted on respect at all costs,citing the time she won a washing machine in a contest but refused to accept the used model she was offered. The lack of, yearning for, and ultimate winning of respect are threaded throughout his plays. He tells us where he fits on the continuum of an African American history that is rife with societal discrimination, cruelty, and suppression, often adding his brand of humor and satire. “My ancestors have been in America since the early 17th century. And for the first 244 years, we never had a problem finding a job.”

Wilson’s stories are rich and poignant, like the time white patrons of a diner misinterpreted the signifying banter of a group of African American guys as troublemaking, something that has not changed much over the years. Or how he joined a group gathering on the sidewalk outside a jazz club to relish the sound of  John Coltrane may have been “background music” to the well-to-do patrons inside but whose spirit floated over the club audience to deliver a message to real audience.

Steven Anthony Jones (photo: Kevin Berne)

Jones as Wilson is amiable enough to put the audience at ease, and although on opening night there were a few nervous missteps, he carried the evening to a standing ovation.

Performed on the Marin Theatre stage, this play is as static and engaging as a Ted talk but not as intimate as a club experience. Jones delivers Wilson at a distance, and it would be interesting to see the show at the other venues planned by  the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre and Ubuntu Theater Project in February and March.

How I Learned What I Learned
By August Wilson

August Wilson: Steven Anthony Jones
Stage Manager: Liz Matos

Director: Margo Hall

Scenic Designer: Edward E. Haynes, Jr.
Lighting Designer: Stephanie Johnson
Costume Designer: Katie Nowacki
Sound Designer: Everett Elton Bradman
Properties Designer: Rachel Hurado, Liam Rudsill

Marin Theatre Company
397 Miller Avenue
Mill Valley, CA 94941-2885
Phone: 415.388.5208

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