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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at Samuel J. Friedman Theatre


  John Douglas Thompson and Michael Potts/ Ph: Joan Marcus

It’s hard to know whether the vehicles driven by the unlicensed cabbies in August Wilson’s 1977 ensemble drama are in AAA-certified top shape. These Pittsburgh hacks are rough around the edges, and their rides could probably use a new carburetor here, a fresh paint job there. However, the show they occupy is built to last and moves like a dream. Jitney last played New York in 2000 and makes its long-awaited Broadway debut to start 2017 right: a soul-sustaining, symphonic piece by a late, great master, about fathers and sons, workers and their dreams – deliverance for audiences hungry for soaring language and tough truths.
Director Ruben Santiago-Hudson steers a powerhouse cast through the dense alleyways and along the majestic avenues of Wilson’s language. We live in a time of clever dramatists working wonders with intertextuality and frames, but so few have an ear like Wilson (Fences) had: a voracious organ absorbing the rhythms and poetry of his working-class characters. Amazingly, this had been the one major Wilson work never seen on Broadway, but Manhattan Theatre Club has remedied the situation. It bears noting that MTC, which in previous seasons has drawn criticism for being too middlebrow and not diverse enough, has in the past year broadened its profile. With the excellent recent productions of Sarah Jones’s Sell/Buy/Date and Qui Nguyen’s Vietgone – and now Jitney – MTC is giving plenty of work to artists of color.               
Would Wilson (1945-2005) approve of the typically white MTC staging Jitney? Impossible to say. In his lifetime, he passionately called for black theaters to produce black plays. Whether that dream could – or should – become an absolute standard remains to be seen, and debated. Regardless, wherever his great dramas are seen, the legacy endures. In his landmark 10-work “Century Cycle” (one play per decade of the past century), Wilson pulled off the feat of being both intensely local and naturalistic yet global and cosmic. When office boss Becker (John Douglas Thompson) reunites with his son Booster (Brandon J. Dirden), on parole after 20 years in jail, it’s more than a domestic scene. The showdown between an unforgiving father and a repentant, desperate child is practically biblical in its fury and grief.
Jitney is a workplace drama with a pay phone in the background that rings constantly for rides and a colorful cast that cycles through the door as we catch glimpses of each man’s complicated, wounded, sometimes tragic past life. It’s not driven by plot so much as the impulses and chemistry of the characters. And they have been incarnated to perfection by a great group including Anthony Chisholm as the drunk Fielding; Michael Potts as hot-tempered gossip Turnbo; and André Holland as Youngblood, a Vietnam vet trying to settle down. Whichever of these men gets behind the wheel at any given time, you’re in for a thrilling and eye-opening journey.


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