The sold-out Aug. 19 and 21 Seattle Repertory Theatre readings of Pulitzer Prize-winner August Wilson's new play, King Hedley II, feature a powerhouse cast, including Laurence Fishburne as Hedley and Danny Glover as the stranger with a key to Hedley's past.
The drama, which will have a full co-production at both Pittsburgh Public Theatre and Seattle Rep in 1999-2000, is a continuation of Wilson's 1995 drama, Seven Guitars, charting the story (35 years later) of King Hedley II, the son of the earlier play's Ruby and King Hedley.
The work is set in Pittsburgh's Hill District in 1985 when Hedley and his friend, Mister (Isaiah Washington), are selling refrigerators to make a better life for himself and wife Tonya (Viola Davis). Ruby (Olivia Cole) and King Hedley have to face the past when suave gambler Elmore (played by Glover) comes to town. Roger Robinson also appears in the reading as Stool Pigeon.
Hollywood's Glover ("Lethal Weapon") and Fishburne ("What's Love Got to Do With It"), and the rest of the Seattle reading cast under the direction of Marion McClinton, are not necessarily expected for the regional stagings. McClinton will direct the full staging, however.
Rehearsals have been ongoing the week of Aug. 16. The Seattle readings, part of the Rep's New Play Workshop series, is sold out at the PONCHO Forum. Pittsburgh Public Theatre presents King Hedley II Dec. 11-Jan. 16; Seattle Rep dates are March 6-April 8.
Tim Colbert, publicist for Pittsburgh Public, said that the season's advertising copy for the new work was written by August Wilson himself.
It reads like Wilson's poetry-flecked playwriting:
Love. Murder. Guilt.
Unavoidable legacy shared by Father and Son.
And the coming of the Messiah.
Colbert told Playbill On-Line that Wilson's brochure copy is much talked about in the Pittsburgh theatregoing community.
"We're very careful when we do advertising copy and season brochure copy: Living playwrights get approval," Colbert said. "We do it as a courtesy, and August Wilson said, 'Let me give you something.'"
The Pittsburgh premiere of King Hedley II will be the debut production at the Public's new facility in December 1999.
The Public's new stand-alone theatre building, with a 650-seat thrust space, is currently under construction toward a fall 1999 ribbon cutting.
Wilson (Fences, The Piano Lesson, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom) is a Pittsburgh native and Seattle resident who sets many of his plays in his Pennsylvania hometown.
King Hedley II is 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).