Phylicia Rashad, Leslie Uggams, Jesse L. Martin and More Take Part in August Wilson's American Century Cycle, Beginning Aug. 26

The ten-play American Century Cycle by late Tony Award winner August Wilson, which captures 100 years of African American life decade by decade during the 20th century, is presented and recorded Aug. 26-Sept. 28 at The Greene Space in Manhattan.

Leslie Uggams
Leslie Uggams (Photo by Krissie Fullerton)

The first recording of all of Wilson's ten plays incorporates longtime Wilson collaborators and interpreters, including the project's artistic director, Tony Award winner Ruben Santiago-Hudson, and associate director, Tony Award nominee Stephen McKinley Henderson.

Directors include Tony Award nominee Kenny Leon, Tony Award winner Phylicia Rashad, Michele Shay and Marion McClinton, and the readings feature many actors reprising the roles they performed on stage, including Tony Award winner Leslie Uggams, Drama Desk and Obie Award winner Anthony Chisholm, Obie Award winner Brandon Dirden, Russell Hornsby, Emmy Award winner Keith David, Ebony Jo-Ann, John Earl Jelks, Roslyn Ruff, S. Epatha Merkerson, Wendell Pierce, Jesse L. Martin, Harry Lennix and Taraji P. Henson in her Wilson debut.

The plays are presented in the order in which they premiered, with the recordings shared with institutions around the U.S.

Dramatic readings of each play are presented in front of a live studio audience and recorded for the NYPR archives. The recording sessions will also be available as live video webcasts on NYPR websites, and the audio recordings will be preserved in NYPR’s archives for future research and educational purposes.

Wilson's ten-play cycle, according to Greene Space, "chronicles the African American experience in the 20th century with each play set in a different decade. The cycle begins in the early 1900s, when wounds from slavery and the Civil War were still fresh, and closes in the 1990s, when even a large and increasingly influential black middle class would not escape persistent racial tensions. Two of the plays, Fences and The Piano Lesson, were recognized with Pulitzer Prizes." The August Wilson Estate granted The Jerome L. Greene Performance Space — the events space of New York Public Radio, which also operates WNYC and WQXR — the rights to record all ten of the plays.

Indira Etwaroo, executive producer of The Greene Space, serves as executive producer of the project.

A list of the plays, dates and cast lists follows:

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
Aug. 26 at 7 PM

" Ma Rainey's Black Bottom is set in Chicago in the 1920s. The play explores issues of race, art, religion and the historic exploitation of black recording artists by white producers. This recorded reading will include live music."

Directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson and featuring George Morfogen, Tuck Milligan, Charles Weldon, Clarke Peters, Harvy Blanks, Ebony Jo-Ann, Joniece Abbott-Pratt, Lucas Caleb Rooney and Jonathan Majors, with original music by Grammy-nominated composer Bill Sims, Jr.

Aug. 28 at 7 PM

" Fences is set in the 1950s and tells the story of Troy, a restless trash-collector and former baseball athlete who, at 53, is struggling to provide for his family. The play won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the 1987 Tony Award for Best Play."

Directed by Kenny Leon and featuring actors Eugene Lee, Jesse L. Martin, Regina Taylor, Ray Anthony Thomas, Ruben Santiago-Hudson and Jonathan Majors.

Joe Turner's Come and Gone
Sept. 4 at 7 PM

" Joe Turner's Come and Gone is set in Pittsburgh in the 1910's. The play chronicles the lives of a few freed former enslaved African Americans and deals with themes of identity, migration and the conflicts of racism and discrimination."

Directed by Phylicia Rashad and featuring Keith David, Taraji P. Henson, S. Epatha Merkerson, Roger Robinson, Raynor Scheine, Jason Dirden, John Douglas Thompson, January LaVoy, Nile Bullock and Alexis Holt.

The Piano Lesson
Sept. 9 at 7 PM

" The Piano Lesson is set in 1936 Pittsburgh during the aftermath of the Great Depression. The play deals with themes of family legacy, and tells the story of the Charles family and a brother and sister who have different ideas on what to do with the piano they own - keep or sell it. The play won the 1990 Pulitzer Prize for Drama."

Directed by Stephen McKinley Henderson, and featuring Brandon J. Dirden, Roslyn Ruff, James A. Williams, Jason Dirden, Alexis Holt, Eric Lenox Abrams, Chuck Cooper and Mandi Masden.

Two Trains Running
Sept. 11 at 7 PM

" Two Trains Running is set in 1969 in Pittsburgh's Hill District. It tells the story of a local diner owner who fights to stay open as a municipal project encroaches on his establishment. His regulars must deal with racial inequality and the turbulent, changing times."

Directed by Michele Shay and featuring actors Ron Cephas Jones, James A. Williams, Owiso Odera, Leon Addison Brown and Harvy Blanks and Tracie Thoms.

Seven Guitars
Sept. 13 at 7 PM

" Seven Guitars is set in 1948. A Blues singer just released from prison is asked to sign a record deal after a song he recorded months before becomes an unexpected hit. He is ready to right the past year's wrongs and return to Chicago with a new understanding of what's important in his life. Unfortunately his means of righting wrongs are inherently flawed."

Directed by Stephen McKinley Henderson, and featuring Ruben Santiago-Hudson, Brenda Pressley, Wendell Pierce, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Lou Ferguson, Harry Lennix and Cassandra Freeman.

Sept. 16 at 7 PM

" Jitney is set in a worn-down gypsy cab station in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in early autumn 1977. It tells the story of men hustling to make a living as jitneys, unofficial and unlicensed taxi cabs."

Directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson and featuring Anthony Chisholm, Amari Cheatom, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Barry Shabaka Henley, Harvy Blanks, Ray Anthony Thomas and Joaquina Kalukango.

King Hedley II
Sept. 21 at noon and 7 PM

" King Hedley II has been described as one of Wilson's darkest plays. Set in the 1980s, it tells the story of an ex-convict in Pittsburgh trying to rebuild his life by selling stolen refrigerators so that he can save enough money to buy a video store."

Noon performance: Directed by Michele Shay and featuring Russell Hornsby, Leslie Uggams, Kevin Carroll, Stephen M. Henderson, Marsha Stephanie Blake and Arthur French.

7 PM performance: Directed by Marion McClinton and featuring Russell Hornsby, Leslie Uggams, Kevin Carroll, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Marsha Stephanie Blake and Arthur French.

Gem of the Ocean
Sept. 24 at 7 PM

" Gem of the Ocean is set in 1904 in the Pittsburgh home of Aunt Ester, a 285-year-old former slave and renowned cleanser of souls. A young man from Alabama visits her for help in absolving the guilt and shame he carries from a crime he’s committed, and she takes him on a journey of self-discovery."

Directed by Kenny Leon and featuring Eugene Lee, Phylicia Rashad, Danai Gurira, Raynor Scheine, Anthony Chisolm and Keith Randolph Smith.

Radio Golf
Sept. 28 at noon and 7 PM 

"Radio Golf is set in 1997 in Pittsburgh's Hill District. It tells the story of a charming, powerful African-American politician who is running for the highest office of his career with the support of his savvy wife. As he steps into political prominence, his plans collide with his past."

Noon performance: Directed by Marion McClinton and featuring Rocky Carroll, John Earl Jelks, Sharon Washington, James A. Williams and Anthony Chisholm.

Directed by Michele Shay and featuring Rocky Carroll, Eisa Davis, John Earl Jelks, James A. Williams and Anthony Chisholm. 

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