Thursday, April 24, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Review: SEVEN GUITARS

People's Light and Theatre Company presents a moving, majestic production of August Wilson's "Seven Guitars," says critic Jim Rutter.

Review: SEVEN GUITARS

“They say you don’t miss your water until your well run dry.”
 These words, spoken softly and without sentiment, could describe many of the themes in People’s Light and Theatre Company’s monumental production of August Wilson’s [ITALIC]Seven Guitars[/ITALIC]: the melancholy mood of its blues music, the funeral that opens and closes the play, the revolving door of the boarding house where this story takes place, and the promise and eventual burnout of northern cities that lured African Americans up from the Deep South after World War II. 
Set in 1948, the flashbacks in Wilson’s play chronicle a few weeks in the lives of seven boarding-house residents. The three-story structure, complete with backyard and garden, anchors a literal street of Hill District tenements in designer Alexis Distler’s startling set. Here, blues guitarist Floyd Barton (the charming Morocco Omari) has just returned to Pittsburgh from a 90-day vagrancy stint in a Chicago jail. 
He wants to persuade the girlfriend he abandoned 18 months earlier to leave her life for Chicago, where a recording contract awaits. But he must compete for her affections with the interloping Canewell (Francois Battiste) and Red (Brian Anthony Wilson). 
Little but life happens. More bad luck follows bad decisions, corruption peels away fraying fragments of possibility, older generations chime in with crazed or cynical criticism, and each man longs for the chance to correct the mistakes of the past. Barton can either drift permanently into their rut or take a bold risk to build a life where “everything can’t go wrong all the time.” 
Through her subtle direction, Jade King Carroll turns this tragicomedy into a study in contrasts: moments of hope punctured by misfortune, friendship brokered by violence, levity lessened by loss. She tempers all of it with the blues motif embodied in Barton’s hit song, “It’s All Right.” In a play filled with broken dreams, Dennis Parichy’s lighting evokes the promise of each day's sunshine against the nightmarish violence that erupts after twilight. 
Lines of poetry pour forth, particularly from Battiste’s silvery tongue, telling symbolic stories of proud roosters and idle men, and of Highway 61, a route that carried millions of African Americans north like a river, blues music filling their sails like a great billowing soul now dispersed into vapors. At People’s Light, that river runs again.
Seven Guitars. Presented by People's Light and Theatre Company, 29 Conestoga Road, Malvern. Runs September 12 to October 7. Tickets: $25-$45. 610-644-3500 or peopleslight.org

By Jim Rutter

FOR THE INQUIRER

“They say you don’t miss your water until your well run dry.” 

These words, spoken softly and without sentiment, could describe many of the themes in People’s Light and Theatre Company’s monumental production of August Wilson’s Seven Guitars: the melancholy mood of its blues music, the funeral that opens and closes the play, the revolving door of the boarding house where this story takes place, and the promise and eventual burnout of northern cities that lured African Americans up from the Deep South after World War II. 

Set in 1948, the flashbacks in Wilson’s play chronicle a few weeks in the lives of seven boarding-house residents. The three-story structure, complete with backyard and garden, anchors a literal street of Hill District tenements in designer Alexis Distler’s startling set. Here, blues guitarist Floyd Barton (the charming Morocco Omari) has just returned to Pittsburgh from a 90-day vagrancy stint in a Chicago jail.

He wants to persuade the girlfriend he abandoned 18 months earlier to leave her life for Chicago, where a recording contract awaits. But he must compete for her affections with interlopers Canewell (Francois Battiste) and Red (Brian Anthony Wilson). 

Little but life happens. More bad luck follows bad decisions, corruption peels away fraying fragments of possibility, older generations chime in with crazed or cynical criticism, and each man longs for the chance to correct the mistakes of the past. Barton can either drift permanently into their rut or take a bold risk to build a life where “everything can’t go wrong all the time.” 

Through her subtle direction, Jade King Carroll turns this tragicomedy into a study in contrasts: moments of hope punctured by misfortune, friendship brokered by violence, levity lessened by loss. She tempers all of it with the blues motif embodied in Barton’s hit song, “It’s All Right.” In a play filled with broken dreams, Dennis Parichy’s lighting evokes the promise of each day's sunshine against the nightmarish violence that erupts after twilight. 

Lines of poetry pour forth, particularly from Battiste’s silvery tongue, telling symbolic stories of proud roosters and idle men, and of Highway 61, a route that carried millions of African Americans north like a river, blues music filling their sails like a great billowing soul now dispersed into vapors. At People’s Light, that river runs again.

Seven Guitars Through Oct. 7 at People's Light and Theatre Company, 29 Conestoga Road, Malvern. Tickets: $25-$45. 610-644-3500 or peopleslight.org.

About this blog
Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer. She also is a contributing writer for Variety and American Theatre magazine. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of four books about four playwrights (Rabe, McNally, Miller, Albee), and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). Her 'weekend' job as a travel writer provides adventure: dogsledding in the Yukon, ziplining in Belize, walking coast-to-coast across England, and cowboying in the Australian Outback.


Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.


Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.


Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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