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A Must See

Denzel Washington Will Help Bring Entire August Wilson Cycle To HBO

If you weren’t watching the Denzel Washington live stream Q&A lead by the Notorious Ph.D., Todd Boyd, last night, you missed a great conversation. However, you shouldn’t worry just yet because you can still watch a part of the live stream, for the time being. You should definitely watch and learn a few things. He had some great things to say about his work on the stage and the big screen. Essentially, he gave a master class.

It was recently announced by Viola Davis that she would be starring in a film adaptation of Fences alongside Washington, who will also direct and produce the film. So, naturally, Denzel talked about this upcoming project with Dr. Boyd, but we weren’t expecting what else he had to say when asked “What else can you do? You’ve done everything.”:

“I’m directing Fences, I’ve never directed Fences. I’ve been given the opportunity by the August Wilson estate… He [Wilson] did 10 plays. I’m directing, producing, and acting in one. I’m executive producing the other nine. I’ve made a deal with HBO. We’re going to do one a year for the next nine years. I’m really excited that they would put that in my hands and trust me. That’s good enough for me. It doesn’t get any better than that.”

And… Yeah… That’s exactly where we dropped dead. This is SO amazing. Each of Wilson’s 10-play Pittsburgh Cycle aka the Century Cycle is set during a different decade of the 1900s and aims to describe the Black experience. We have been preaching about August Wilson to anyone who will listen and now we’ll have contemporary depictions of each play released once a year to use as reference and just for personal enjoyment. This is phenomenal. Please hold why we try to breathe. In the meantime, Denzel explained why Wilson’s work is meant for mass consumption:

“The universal stems from the specific. His stories are specifically African American stories but the themes are universal. Family, Love, Betrayal–whatever the theme is. People relate and enjoy listening to or seeing his work. He was just a bright, brilliant, shining light who was here and then he was gone, but his work will live forever to be interepreted by actors & directors for as long as we’re here.”

Watch the entire interview below and also educate yourself on the August Wilson Cycle below.

(Wish that The Green Space would unlock those August Wilson recordings again. Who knows? They just might.)

The Pittsburgh Cycle

August Wilson’s crowning achievement is The Pittsburgh Cycle, his series of ten plays that charts the African American experience throughout the twentieth century. All of them are set in Pittsburgh’s Hill District except for one, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, which is set in Chicago. The cycle is also known as his ‘Century Cycle’. The plays are listed below followed by the year he wrote them, the decade they reflect and a mini plot summary.

Gem of the Ocean (2003) – 1900s

Citizen Barlow enters the home of the 285-year-old Aunt Ester who guides him on a spiritual journey to the City of Bones.

Joe Turner’s Come and Gone (1988) – 1910s

The themes of racism and discrimination come to the fore in this play about a few freed African American slaves.

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (1984) – 1920s

Ma Rainey’s ambitions of recording an album of songs are jeopardised by the ambitions and decisions of her band.

The Piano Lesson (1990) – 1930s

Brother and sister Boy Willie and Berniece clash over whether or not they should sell an ancient piano that was exchanged for their great grandfather’s wife and son in the days of slavery.

Seven Guitars (1995) – 1940s

Starting with the funeral of one of the seven characters, the play tracks the events that lead to the death.

Fences (1987) – 1950s

Race relations are explored again in this tale which starts with a couple of garbage men who wonder why they can’t become garbage truck drivers.

Two Trains Running (1991) – 1960s

Looking at the Civil Rights movement of the sixties, this play details the uncertain future promised to African Americans at the time.

Jitney (1982) – 1970s

Jitneys are unlicensed cab drivers operating in Pittsburgh’s Hill District when legal cabs won’t cover that area, the play follows the hustle and bustle of their lives.

King Hedley II (1999) – 1980s

One of Wilson’s darkest plays, an ex-con tries to start afresh by selling refrigerators with the intent of buying a video store. Characters from Seven Guitars reappear throughout.

Radio Golf (2005) – 1990s

Aunt Ester returns in this modern story of city politics and the quest from two monied Pittsburgh men to try and redevelop an area of Pittsburgh.

The plays are not connected in the manner of a serial story but characters do repeatedly appear at different stages of their lives and the offspring of previous characters also feature; the figure of Aunt Ester features most often in the cycle. Another dominating feature of the work is the presence of an apparently mentally-impaired character; examples include Gabriel in Fences and Hedley in Seven Guitars.

Written By

Drew Shade is a theatre artist and enthusiast who fosters artistic diversity and excellence for the love of Black theatre artists. He is the Founder/Creative Director of Broadway Black, Off-Book Podcast & The Antonyo Awards. “Have a belief in yourself that is bigger than anyone’s disbelief.” – August Wilson


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