Pittsburgh Public Theatre announced its 1999-2000 season March 18, underscoring what had previously been reported on Playbill On-Line: August Wilson's world-premiere play, King Hedley II, will open the resident professional theatre's new, 600-seat thrust venue, the O'Reilly Theater, in December.
Marion Isaac McClinton will stage the Wilson drama, a sort of sequel to Wilson's Seven Guitars (the plays share some characters). Both plays are in Wilson's ambitious cycle of 10 works representing the African American experience in the 20th century -- one play per decade.
The staging is a co-production with Seattle Repertory Theatre, where it will play in 2000.
The upcoming season -- the last for artistic director Edward Gilbert -- will begin at the Public's current North Side thrust space, the Hazlett Theater, in September (for one show) and shift to the O'Reilly in downtown Pittsburgh, in December.
The City of Pittsburgh owns the Hazlett and currently leases it to the Public for $1 a year. Smaller performing arts groups are exploring the possibility of using the facility after the Public vacates it in fall 1999. Also on the 25th anniversary season slate is a new, still-untitled play by Nixon's Nixon playwright Russell Lees. "Mr. Lees tell us he's been thinking about Thomas Jefferson" for the subject of the play, said press rep Tim Colbert.
On the Pittsburgh Public season:
*How I Learned to Drive, the Pulitzer Prize-winning coming-of-age drama by Paula Vogel, at the Hazlett Theater, Oct. 14-Nov. 14.
*King Hedley II, a fierce look at the breakdown of an African American family in the 1980s, at the O'Reilly Theater, Dec. 15, 1999-Jan. 15, 2000.
*The Pirates of Penzance, the operetta by Gilbert & Sullivan, Jan. 27-Feb. 27, 2000.
*The Weir, Conor McPherson's West End and Broadway ghost-story play (pending rights), March 9-April 9, 2000.
*New play by Russell Lees, apparently about Thomas Jefferson, April 20 May 21, 2000.
*The Cherry Orchard, Chekhov's classic about the end of an era, director Gilbert's swan song, June 1-July 2, 2000.
For information about Pittsburgh Public Theater's upcoming 25th season, call (412) 321-9800.
The new $20 million O'Reilly Theater is being built by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, with the Public serving as tenant. Money for the project came from government, corporate and private sectors. The theatre is named Dr. Anthony J.F. O'Reilly, of Pittsburgh-based Heinz Corporation.
The O'Reilly is currently under construction on Penn Avenue across from Heinz Hall, in the downtown cultural district. The architect is Michael Graves.
The O'Reilly thrust theatre will be about 200 seats larger than the current 457-seat thrust space. The rehearsal hall at the new facility will double as an intimate second space.
August Wilson, a Pittsburgh native and Seattle resident who sets many of his plays in his Pennsylvania hometown, told The Seattle Times in 1998 that the main character in King Hedley II "is the son of Ruby, a figure in my play, Seven Guitars. This one's set in the '80s, when you have all this violence and these kids with guns running around. I'm exploring three generations trying to cope with the breakdown of civility in the black community."
The play will be number eight in a planned series of 10 works tracing the African-American experience, decade by decade, in the 20th century.
Plays in the cycle so far include Joe Turner's Come and Gone (1910s), Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (1920s), The Piano Lesson (1930s), Seven Guitars (1940s), Fences (1950s), Two Trains Running (1960s) and Jitney (1970s).
-- By Kenneth Jones