About Ma Rainey's Black Bottom I wrote, "Much of the play is these four men talking and joking with each other. Their characters are so specific and interesting that it's a pleasure to listen to them go on about nothing, but also difficult at times when we catch glimpses of the pain that's behind it all." Even though I've only seen three, I'm pretty sure that can be said about all of August Wilson's plays. In Jitney, the men sit around talking and joking with each other at a jitney station where most of them work (think Uber for the 20th Century). They find out that the city is tearing the whole block down to make way for new buildings and houses, and must decide what they should do. Find a new location, join another station, or retire? Each of the men has their own personal struggles they're dealing with; one is trying to reconnect with his son who was just let out of prison after 20 years, one is an alcoholic, one is working two jobs to make money to buy a house for his family. Tragedy strikes, but life continues in this play that's a study of characters and relationships.
|Jasmine Hughes and Terry Bellamy (photo by Allen Weeks)
Although Jitney is set in the '70s, these are older working class men who aren't necessarily up on the latest styles, and Mathew LeFebvre's mostly subdued costumes reflect that. Fortunately there a few young and showy characters that get to show off the '70s colors and silhouettes. Vicki Smith's scenic design is a realistic recreation of the jitney station workplace, complete with glass windows that show the street behind it.
Jitney continues at St. Paul's Penumbra Theatre through November 6. Don't miss this chance to see one of America's best playwrights of the 20th Century by the theater company that knows him best.