The Atlantic City Theater Guild, under the direction of Arnelle Lyles, recently staged its most important work to date.
A tribute to August Wilson’s Pittsburgh Cycle (the late playwright’s 10-play, Pulitzer-prize winning series) ran at the Atlantic City Police Athletic League building in February, in celebration of Black History Month. The run was so successful that some people were turned away, so a second two-day run, March 5-6, was added. Scenes from all 10 of Wilson’s plays were presented in an exciting display that was so powerful it redefined the word “drama.”
Broadway will forever be known for its musicals, however in the mid-1980s and early ’90s, Wilson broke into theater and eventually landed on “the Great White Way” with a series of dramas set in his native Pittsburgh. His plays follow a neighborhood, a culture, and an evolving way of life starting in the first decade of the 1900s with Gem of the Ocean and going through his 10th play in the cycle, Radio Golf, set in 1995.
Many of the actors to take part in Wilson’s plays on Broadway are people you have seen on the small and big screen, including James Earle Jones (Fences), James Avery (Jitney), Charles “Roc” Dutton (The Piano Lesson), Rocky Carroll (The Piano Lesson), Ella Joyce (Joe Turner’s Come and Gone) and Denzel Washington (the revival of Fences) to name a few.
Wilson’s writing shows a tenderness and vision that cannot be matched. The actors who have given form and voice to Wilson’s words are devoted artists of the highest degree and bring their whole lives to a scene.
The Atlantic City Theater Guild’s tribute to August Wilson’s Pittsburg Cycle was a shining success. This production included some of the most powerful enactments of Wilson’s work that I have ever seen. Each actor/actress in this cast shined. Director Lyles handled the language and music of Wilson’s words and her actors’ pitch perfectly.
In the scene from Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, the character, Ma Rainey, is such a big over-the-top personality, the only way it works is for the rest of the cast in the scene to play it as real as possible. Eric Phillips Jr., as Irvin, and Michael Bailey, as Sturdyvant, captivated me in this scene.
The Pittsburgh Cycle also included two break-out performances as well — Antoinette Jones as Rose in Fences handles one of the play’s most difficult scenes like a seasoned pro. Look out for more great performances from this young lady.
The other heart-wrenching performance was from Pastor Marcus Witherspoon as Becker from the play Jitney. Witherspoon also made his heartbreaking scene seem like a one-of-a-kind experience between a sadly disappointed father and a son both defining self pride.
Space prevents me from giving the entire cast and crew warranted credit. I must, however, give set designer/actor Tyrell Lewis acknowledgement on a beautiful set. If you get the chance, you should contact the guild about either booking or catching an upcoming performance of its tribute to August Wilson’s Pittsburgh Cycle.
You won’t regret it.
Raymond Tyler hosts the Alternative Soul Sunday Breakfast Club radio show each Sunday from 7–8am on 96.1FM WTTH - The Touch.