August Wilson's American Century Cycle Comes to Life With Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Leslie Uggams and Stephen McKinley Henderson

By Stuart Miller
13 Sep 2013

Anthony Chisholm
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Anthony: August would have those half-on glasses and look over them and put the fear of god in you — you didn't know what he was thinking. During Lloyd's reign there were very few people that were fired, but as time went on, they bumped off a lot of people in plays like King Hedley.

Leslie: Oh yes.

Ebony: When it got out of Lloyd's hands the whole empire started to crumble.

Leslie: I agree.

Stephen: August got directors for a time that would do what he wanted done.

Anthony: The most horrible production of Jitney I was ever in was in Atlanta.

Stephen: The show was embraced by the audience, but it was a buffoonery, chitlin-circuit way of performing it from our director. We did other versions of it with Marion McClinton that were done the right way.

He still revered Lloyd. When he was writing King Hedley, with its classical tructure and even that name with King in it, he said to us, 'I think I got one the old man is going to like.'

On August's Death

Ebony: He told me during Gem of the Ocean, 'I have done what God put [me] on earth to do.' I didn't know what he was trying to tell me. He was trying to tell me, 'I'm leaving here.'

Anthony: He always showed up for rehearsals. He was always like that, if we did a show in six cities he'd do rewrites in every city. But then in L.A., at the Mark Taper, he wasn't there. I thought maybe he had other writing assignments — he was finishing up a Fences screenplay and he had a comedy he was working on, a strike between the undertakers and the coffin makers — but then his oldest daughter came and she had a faraway look and I just saw her thinking. And Constanza (his wife) came out and she had a similar look and it was announced that he was sick. He still faxed in rewrites for every scene.

Stephen: When they were doing Radio Golf, Anthony called and told me, 'It's close to the end.' So I called Lloyd and said what I heard. Then he called the house and he and August finally had a talk. He called me back and said, 'Thank you Mr. Henderson.' And I heard August was excited, saying, 'The old man called.'

Stephen: The service in Pittsburgh was incredible. When Wynton Marsalis played, that song...

Ruben: "Danny Boy."

Stephen: Talk about seeing grown men cry.

Ruben: I wasn't going to do it but my lip started, I see Henderson crying, Chisholm crying. August had asked for "Danny Boy." Wynton said he didn't know it but his brother said he drove from here to Pittsburgh listened to it on the way there. When he played that solo trumpet...

On the New York Public Radio Project

Anthony: I'm a disciple of August Wilson.

Leslie: Hear, hear.

Anthony: Great writers like Shakespeare were kept alive by the culture of their time. The only way for August to grow for our grandchildren and beyond is through something like this, so it's our respsonbility.

Ruben: What's important to me and Stephen is we do it for the kids. Every show we do one performance for them.

Stephen: We're passing the plays on to young people to inspire them, not just to be actors, but to be doctors and lawyers.

Ruben: As African-Americans, we have had to negotiate our place in America in a unique way, and people don't even know what we've gone through. This is not unique to August. What's unique is that he wrote it, he documented it. He fulfilled his responsibility. We have honor that. That's why we're here.

The readings continue through Sept. 28. Select plays will air on WNYC and other public radio stations in 2014. Live video webcasts, tickets and more information are available by visiting thegreenespace.org



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