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Photo Timeline: August Wilson's Century Cycle

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

King Hedley II (Eric Y. Exit, courtesy of The Goodman Theatre)

The Greene Space's production of August Wilson's American Century Cycle presents the playwright's works in the order in which they premiered, rather than in chronological order of the decade-by-decade cycle.

The reason? Wilson didn't set out to write a 10-play cycle when he began. He once explained that, after writing several plays he thought to himself, "I've written three plays in three different decades, so why don't I just continue doing that?" By presenting the plays in the order they premiered, explained the series' Artistic Director Ruben Santiago-Hudson and Associate Directed Stephen McKinley Henderson, audiences can see the evolution of the playwright's thought process.


View our slideshow of Wilson's Century Cycle plays, in the order of their premiere:

William B. Carter, 1984
Ma Rainey's Black Bottom

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom is set in Chicago in the 1920s - the only play of the cycle not set in Pittsburgh. The play explores issues of race, art, religion and the historic exploitation of black recording artists by white producers.

It was first presented at the Yale Repertory Theatre on April 6, 1984, directed by Lloyd Richards. It opened on Broadway on July 11, 1984.

(Photo: Theresa Merritt as Ma Rainey at Yale Repertory)


Paul J. Penders, 1985

Fences Fences is set in the 1950s and tells the story of Troy, a restless trash-collector and former baseball athlete who, at 53, is struggling to provide for his family. The play won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the 1987 Tony Award for Best Play.

The play premiered on April 30, 1985 at the Yale Repertory Theatre and opened on Broadway on March 25, 1987, directed by Lloyd Richards.

(Photo: James Earl Jones and Mary Alice)

William B. Carter, 1986
Joe Turner's Come and Gone

Joe Turner's Come and Gone is set in Pittsburgh in the 1910's. The play chronicles the lives of a few freed former enslaved African Americans and deals with themes of identity, migration and the conflicts of racism and discrimination.

The play was first presented at Yale Repertory Theatre on April 29, 1986 and opened on Broadway on March 27, 1988, directed by Lloyd Richards.

(Photo: The cast of Joe Turner's Come and Gone at Yale Repertory Theatre

Gerry Goodstein, 1987
The Piano Lesson

The Piano Lesson is set in 1936 Pittsburgh during the aftermath of the Great Depression. The play deals with themes of family legacy, and tells the story of the Charles family and a brother and sister who have different ideas on what to do with the piano they own - keep or sell it. The play won the 1990 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

The play premiered on November 26, 1987 at Yale Repertory Theatre and opened on Broadway on April 16, 1990, directed by Lloyd Richards.

(Photo: Lou Meyers in The Piano Lesson at Yale Repertory Theatre)

Jay Thompson
Two Trains Running

Two Trains Running is set in 1969 in Pittsburgh's Hill District. It tells the story of a local diner owner who fights to stay open as a municipal project encroaches on his establishment. His regulars must deal with racial inequality and the turbulent, changing times.

The play opened March 27, 1990 at Yale Repertory Theatre and on Broadway on April 13, 1992, directed by Lloyd Richards.

(Photo: Laurence Fishburne, Cynthia Martells and Sullivan Walker)

Eric Y. Exit, courtesy of The Goodman Theatre
Seven Guitars

Seven Guitars is set in Pittsburgh in 1948. A Blues singer just released from prison is asked to sign a record deal after a song he recorded months before becomes an unexpected hit. He is ready to right the past year's wrongs and return to Chicago with a new understanding of what's important in his life. Unfortunately his means of righting wrongs are inherently flawed.

The play opened on January 21, 1995 at The Goodman Theatre in Chicago, directed by Walter Dallas. It opened on Broadway March 28, 1996, directed by Lloyd Richards.

(Photo: Michele Shay, Rosalyn Coleman and Tommy Hollis)

T. Charles Erickson, 1998, courtesy of Huntington Theatre Company

Jitney is set in a worn-down gypsy cab station in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in early autumn 1977. It tells the story of men hustling to make a living as jitneys, unofficial and unlicensed taxi cabs.

The play opened in October 1982 at the Allegheny Repertory Theatre in Pittsburgh and had its New York opening on April 25, 2000 at the Second Stage Theatre, directed by Marion McClinton. Jitney is the sole play in the Cycle that has not yet been presented on Broadway.

(Photo: Russell Hornsby and Stephen McKinley Henderson)

Eric Y. Exit, courtesy of The Goodman Theatre
King Hedley II

King Hedley II has been described as one of Wilson's darkest plays. Set in the 1980s, it tells the story of an ex-convict in Pittsburgh trying to rebuild his life by selling stolen refrigerators so that he can save enough money to buy a video store.

The play made its premiere at the Pittsburgh Public Theatre, directed by Marion McClinton, on December 11, 1999. Its Broadway opening was May 1, 2001, directed by Marion McClinton.

(Photo: Richard Brooks and Leslie Uggams)

Photo by Carol Rosegg, 2005
Gem of the Ocean

Gem of the Ocean is set in 1904 in the Pittsburgh home of Aunt Ester, a 285-year-old former slave and renowned cleanser of souls. A young man from Alabama visits her for help in absolving the guilt and shame he carries from a crime he’s committed, and she takes him on a journey of self-discovery.

The play premiered at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago on April 28, 2003, directed by Marion McClinton. It opened on Broadway on December 6, 2005, directed by Kenny Leon.

(Photo: Phylicia Rashad and John Earl Jenks)

Carol Rosegg, 2005.
Radio Golf

Radio Golf is set in 1997 in Pittsburgh's Hill District. It tells the story of a charming, powerful African-American politician who is running for the highest office of his career with the support of his savvy wife. As he steps into political prominence, his plans collide with his past.

The play premiered at Yale Repertory Theatre on April 22, 2005, directed by Timothy Douglas. It opened on Broadway on April 20, 2007, directed by Kenny Leon.

(Photo: James A. Williams, Michele Shay and Richard Brooks)


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Comments [1]

PATTI from New York, NY

This series is phenomenal and I am so thankful for the opportunity to witness it live. The directing, the casting and vocal dramatizations are superb! I have attended 2 of the plays and will be attending 2 more and a couple of conversations. Well Done.

Sep. 10 2013 10:51 AM

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