Wednesday, October 26, 2016

CT Theater Review: The Piano Lesson -- Hartford Stage

Clifton Duncan, Christina Acosta Robinson and Roscoe Orman. Photo: T. Charles Erickson
The Piano Lesson
By August Wilson
Directed by Jade King Carroll
Through Nov. 13

By Lauren Yarger
What's it all About?
This ghost-story of a play won August Wilson a Pulitzer Prize in 1990. It is part of his 10-play  cycle following this history of African-American life in Pittsburgh. The slice of life brings the audience into the home of Doaker Charles (Roscoe Orman) where Boy Willie (Clifton Duncan) and Lymon (Gayden Ryan Kane) arrive with a tuck full of watermelons to sell. Boy Willie plans to sell a piano that his sister, Berniece (Christina Acosta Robinson) and he have inherited. He wants to use the money to buy some land to farm, but his sister refuses, even though she and her daughter, Maretha (Elise Taylor) rarely play the instrument. The piano tells their family's story through slavery with pictures beautifully carved on it by an ancestor. Berniece refused to sell it when her suitor, preacher Avery  (Daniel Morgan Shelley) brought a prospective buyer to the home (Alexis Distler's set design allows us to see the interior of the house, with its posh furniture, as well as its ragged edges). More than just family tensions are at play here, though, as the ghost of the man who owned the land Boy Willie wants starts making appearances and the piano seems to have a mind of its own.

What are the Highlights?
Wilson's tale is intimate and absorbing. Director Jade King Carroll coaxes strong performances across the board, but excels at finding humor to offset the heavier tones of the play. Cleavant Derricks steals the show as Wining Boy, Doaker's humorous older brother, and Toccarra Cash lights up the stage as a romantic interest for Boy Willie and Lymon.

A spiritual sung by the men  (composed by Baikida Carroll; Music Direction by Bill Sims, Jr.) is a delight (Derricks' is in extraordinary voice).

What are the Lowlights?
Orman, seems to search for some of his lines; the three-hour run time is too long.

More information:
The Piano Lesson plays at Hartford Stage, 50 Church St., Hartford, through Nov. 13. Performances are Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Sunday at 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Saturday and Sunday at 2 pm. Tickets are $65-$81:; 860-527-5151.

Additional credits:
Costume Design. Toni-Leslie James; Lighting Design, York Kennedy; Sound Design, Karin Graybash; Wig Design, Robert-Charles Vallace; Music Director, Bill Sims, Jr.; Fight Choreography, Greg Webster; Dialect Coach. Ron Carlos

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)
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