August Wilson Cycle at the Kennedy Center

I just wanted to post quickly and encourage you to try to see at least one of the plays making up the August Wilson cycle at the Kennedy Center. As an American actor, and as an American theatre-goer, there are certain playwrights it is necessary to know. I would argue that the big four are Miller, Williams, O’Neill, and Wilson. Wilson I was least familiar with, so I was excited to hear that the Kennedy Center would be staging his entire cycle, and wished that I had the money to see them all in chronological order. But I knew I wanted to make it to a couple performances, especially after the actors and directors were announced.

This past week I managed to catch King Hedley II and Two Trains Running. I have to admit that the quality surprised me. Do not be put off by the description of these as “staged readings.” They are practically full productions. The sets and costumes would work just fine in any “complete” production. Some of the actors are downright excellent, and you forget that they are holding books in their hands. Russell Hornsby was in both the plays I saw, and excellent in each, delivering entire sections without needing his script. Hornsby nails the part of King Hedley II, managing to be both rough and charismatic; likable, but violent. In Two Trains Running, he plays Wolf, a lottery agent, and a bit of a smooth operator. The way he inhabits this character’s physicality is delightful.

I’m sure there are other notable performances throughout the ten plays. But the real star of this event is the playwright. These stagings afford you the opportunity to hear Wilson’s words, to appreciate his writing that is placed in a specific time and place and yet heightened and poetic. His beautiful monologues come out of the mouths of these accomplished actors, and the result is something wonderful to experience.

Through April 6th
4 stars


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