BILLY EUGENE JONES AS FLOYD PHOTO BY JOAN MARCUS
A rooster crows heralding the difficult struggle of the African-American male and female in "Seven Guitars" by August Wilson. Wilson has crated a monumental collection of ten tales, one for every decade in the 20th century that have been given the title The Pittsburgh Cycle and the American Century Cycle. Nine of the plays are set in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, near his childhood home. "Seven Guitars" takes place in 1948 and is being showcased at the Yale Repertory Theatre, 1120 Chapel Street, in New Haven as part of its 50th anniversary season until Saturday, December 17.
The play opens with Vera (Rachel Leslie) bidding farewell to her lover Floyd Barton (Billy Eugene Jones) at his funeral as a band of angels escort him home. Floyd was on the verge of grabbing the brass ring, of securing his place in the annals of the music world, trekking off to Chicago to achieve his goals. He had gone the first time without Vera, but now he has come home to correct that wrong and make all his dreams come true.
Playwright August Wilson has created a cast of seven African-Americans, like a set of seven guitars, all who strum to a different beat, who hear a unique tune, who try against all odds to make their lives hum with harmony. The discordant sounds, however, are hard to overcome as each other lays out a pattern of notes for their lives. Floyd is full of bravado, rash with hope, eager to prove himself. He wants Vera to go on the journey with him, to be at his side as he records hit tunes and makes a name for himself in the music industry.
He wants and needs the assistance of his pals Canewell (Wayne T. Carr) and Red (Danny Johnson) to achieve his goals. Getting the money owed him for a stint in jail and getting his guitar out of hock, booking a gig at a local club and persuading Vera to take another chance on him are all on his agenda. Life intrudes as he witnesses how Hedley (Andre De Shields) copes, wielding a large knife in his battles against the rooster and the white man, trying to ignore the disease that is slowing ravaging him. Louise (Stephanie Berry) offers support, even opening her home to her niece Ruby (Antoinette Crowe-Legacy) who finds herself with child.
In this household, hopes are like balloons that are too easily popped and each member struggles against his lot, destined to be disappointed. Timothy Douglas directs this intense drama that grips and punctures the heart.
For tickets ($59 and up), call the Yale Rep at 203-432-1234 or online at www.yalerep.org. Performances are Tuesday -Saturday at 8 p.m., with matinees Wednesday and Saturday at 2 p.m. Special performances for high school groups will be held at 10:15 a.m. on December 13 and 15.
Come learn recipes for cabbage and collard greens, take a puff on Old Gold cigarettes, order a hand written letter for 50 cents, get a stale cigar to welcome a new baby and hear the disturbing cock of a rooster in this drama that admits "we cause what happens to us."