Photo by Phil Hammer
ST. LOUIS, MO. -- The Black Rep is already two-thirds of its way through August Wilson’s American Century Cycle for the second time. So it was certainly due to be presented with its August Wilson American Century Cycle Award, given by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette with the collaboration of August Wilson House and support of the August Wilson Estate, honoring theater companies that have staged all 10 plays.
Christopher Rawson, Post-Gazette senior theater critic and an August Wilson House board member, made the presentation on Jan. 10, the opening night of The Black Rep’s new production of Wilson’s “Two Trains Running.”
Rawson said, in part: “August is still alive, first, in the people, places and stories from what we call August Wilson’s Hill, and second, in the theaters around the country that bring them to life. This award, presented jointly by his hometown newspaper and his childhood home, celebrates the conjunction of these two. It says that we are all connected in August’s work, through our recognition of its rich humanity and spiritual passion.”
The Black Rep completed its first cycle in 2008, the third theater company to do so, trailing only theaters in Chicago and Seattle and edging out the Pittsburgh Public Theater by a few months. But the award was established only recently, so individual presentations are being made gradually, as circumstances permit. There are 15 companies, plus Broadway, that have qualified so far.
August Wilson’s widow, Constanza Romero Wilson, sent thanks to The Black Rep “for your ongoing support of his legacy and for continuing to tell the stories for many generations to come. You ‘belong to the band’!” The quotation comes from Wilson’s “Gem of the Ocean,” where “the band” is those who struggled to free black Americans from slavery and Jim Crow.
Each of the 10 plays (sometimes called the Pittsburgh Cycle, since all but one take place in the playwright’s native Hill) is set in a different decade of the 20th century. “Two Trains Running” is a comi-tragedy set in the embattled Hill of 1969 in a diner very much like the legendary Eddie’s.
The Black Rep production justifies the company’s reputation as one of the country’s leading black theaters. It’s still led by Ron Himes, who founded it in 1976 and who plays the juicy role of the storefront philosopher, Holloway. Playing the central role of the diner owner, Memphis, is James Williams, better known as Jay-Dub, a Wilson veteran who is the only actor other than Pittsburgh’s Wali Jamal to have acted in 11 August Wilson plays.
Theaters that have so far completed their first cycle are listed here with the year they completed the 10th play. (“Broadway” isn’t really a theater company, but it is at least a theater community like other cities). In due course, qualifying theaters will be honored at August Wilson House when it has been restored as an arts center for the Hill.
1. Goodman Theater, Chicago, 2007
2. Seattle Rep, 2007
3. The Black Rep, St. Louis, 2008
4. Pittsburgh Public Theater, 2008
5. Denver Center Theatre, 2009
6. Penumbra Theatre, St. Paul, 2009
7. Huntington Theatre, Boston, 2012
8. Ensemble Theatre, Houston 2012
9. Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre, 2013
10. Anthony Bean Community Theatre, New Orleans, 2013
11. The Actors Group, Honolulu, 2015
12. M Ensemble, Miami (information pending)
13. American Stage, St. Petersburg, 2017
14. Broadway, 2017
15. Hattiloo Theatre, Memphis, 2018
16. New African Grove Theatre, Atlanta, 2018
Senior theater critic Christopher Rawson: email@example.com.