Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Diego

Jitney
National Tour
Review by Bill Eadie | Season Schedule


Ray Anthony Thomas, Steven Anthony Jones,
Anthony Chisholm, Keith Randolph Smith,
and Amari Cheatom

Photo by Joan Marcus
Jitney was the first play in August Wilson's Century Cycle to be performed, the collection chronicling the African-American experience throughout the 20th Century, with one play set in each decade. Nine of the ten plays were set in the same neighborhood, known as the Hill District, in Pittsburgh.

Eventually, these plays would develop some common themes and a few common characters. Jitney set the tone for the plays that followed. Still, it was a beginning effort, as initially premiered in 1982 and later revised, and it took until 2017 before it would open on Broadway.

But the Broadway version was a critics' darling and a Tony Award winner for Best Revival of a Play. That version is now touring and collecting critical acclaim at several U.S. regional theatres, including The Old Globe. I'm happy to add my voice to the chorus.

Set in 1977, a group of car service drivers find themselves in a run-down hangout (scenic design by David Gallo, lighting design by Jane Cox) as they wait their turn to take requests for rides that come in via a pay phone hanging on the wall. The car service isn't licensed, but the locals know the drivers and vice versa. It provides a subsistence living at best, and most of the men are older and have been doing this for quite a while. They have their stories and they have their quirks, but several also have regular customers who would be in significant trouble without them.

One exception is Youngblood (Amari Cheatom), a man in his 20s, Vietnam vet, working multiple jobs in order to save up for a down payment on a house. He hasn't told his girlfriend Rena (Nija Okoro) about his plans yet, which gets him into trouble when Turnbo (Ray Anthony Thomas), the gossip of the group, spreads the word that he's been seen late at night with her sister.

Truth be told, most of the elder men are happy to have the opportunity to share their experiences and wisdom with someone younger, and a couple of the characters take their turns with Youngblood and Booster (Francois Battiste), the son of Becker (Steven Anthony Jones), the group's leader. Doub (Keith Randolph Smith) shares his Korean conflict Army experiences with Youngblood at a crucial moment, emotionally. Fielding (Anthony Chisholm) helps Booster, who has just gotten out of prison, with dressing for success in what will surely be a tough job market (costume design, including Booster's "success" suit, by Toni-Leslie James).

Veteran Century Cycle director Ruben Santiago-Hudson knows there is a musicality to August Wilson's plays that needs to come to the fore—and it does, not only in how the cast talks and moves but in the bluesy jazz interludes that are recorded so well they sound as though they're being performed live (original music by Bill Sims Jr., sound design by Charles Coes). He also understands Mr. Wilson's appreciation of the spiritual and supernatural, and though his iconic character Aunt Esther does not appear, her presence is felt at the appropriate moment.

Local companies have been producing the Century Cycle piecemeal (and Cygnet Theatre will stage Two Trains Running later this spring), but any chance to see an August Wilson play is welcome—and this chance provides an especially rich insight into the people of the Hill District.

Jitney runs February 23, 2020, at the Old Globe Theatre, Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage, in San Diego's Balboa Park at 1363 Old Globe Way, San Diego CA. Performances are Sundays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays at 7 p.m., Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8 p.m., with matinees on Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. Free parking is available throughout the park. Valet parking is also available, evenings only, with advance reservation. For tickets and information, call the box office at 619-23-GLOBE [234-5623] or visit www.theoldglobe.org.

Cast members also include Harvy Blanks (Shealy) and Brian D. Coats (Philmore).


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