To Boy Willie Charles, the family piano symbolizes emancipation, an escape from slavery and embrace of freedom. By selling it, he can buy one hundred acres of land in Mississippi, land that had belonged to the Sutter clan that once were their white slave owners. To his sister Berniece, that heirloom, hand carved with scenes of their family's births, weddings and deaths, is emblematic of their history, their inheritance, and she will never allow it to leave her possession. Her people shed their blood and lost lives in securing it and, for that reason, it is irreplaceable.
The Hartford Stage will be opening a window to peer in at the Charles family and the argument that threatens to divide them down the middle, requiring a King Solomon decision perhaps to cut the piano in half to satisfy both brother and sister. From now until Sunday, November 13, you are invited into the world of August Wilson to view "The Piano Lesson."
The time is 1936 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Boy Willie, a determined and persuasive Clifton Duncan, has just arrived in the middle of the night to his Uncle Doaker 's home where his sister, an unbending tree of a woman portrayed by Christina Acosta Robinson lives with her daughter Maretha, a sweet Elise Taylor. Boy Willie is on a mission. He has a broken down truck stuffed with watermelons and is traveling with his friend Lymon, an accommodating Galen Ryan Kane, with the plan to sell them as well as the prized piano so he can become a landowner.
The two men, partners, are uninvited and unwelcome. While Doaker, a helpful Roscoe Orman, a chef on the railroad, is happy to see them, Berniece will not tolerate their presence. Boy Willie, who has been in prison for the last three years and may or may not be responsible for Berniece's husband Crawley's death, insists the piano be sold. The former slave owner Sutter has died mysteriously and his ghost is taking up residence in the house.
Their father lost his life stealing the heirloom from the Sutters, believing they could never be truly free until it belonged to them. Their grandfather had carved it and it was the symbol of their true emancipation. Even Berniece's suitor Avery (Daniel Morgan Shelley) was unsuccessful getting her to part with it and donate the proceeds to his new church. The tension of this family drama is broken with the arrival of the often drunken but charming Wining Boy, Cleavant Derricks, who plays a mean piano and with Boy Willie's new lady friend Grace (Toccarra Cash).
Who will win this tug of war battle over the Charles' legacy at the heart and soul of this involving drama as Berniece clings to the injustices of the past just as strongly as Boy Willie sets his sights on the promise of the future? Jade King Carroll directs this probing portrait of a clan at odds, where no one can be a winner. Alexis Distler has created a fine set for the action.
For tickets ($25 and up), call the Hartford Stage, 50 Church Street, Hartford at 860-527-5151 or online at www.hartfordstage.org. Performances are Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., with matinees Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m.
This Pulitzer Prize winning play is but one of ten August Wilson penned to showcase each decade of the twentieth century, all set in and around Pittsburgh. Don't miss it.