Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson's latest, King Hedley II, will officially open at Seattle Repertory Theatre on March 13 for a run through April 8. This, after running last December and January at the Pittsburgh Public Theatre in Wilson's home town.
Wilson was in residence for rehearsals at the Public, leading up to the Dec. 11 first preview of the drama, set in his steel-town neighborhood known as the Hill District. King Hedley II was the first work to be seen at the Public's new $20 million downtown cultural-center space, the O'Reilly Theater.
The cast of King Hedley II is the same as in Pittsburgh: Russell Andrews (Mister), Charles Brown (Elmore), Ella Joyce (Tonya), Tony Todd (King), Marlene Warfield (Ruby) and Mel Winkler (Stool Pigeon).
* The drama is a kind of continuation of Wilson's Seven Guitars. Marion Isaac McClinton, a veteran director of and actor in Wilson plays, directs the production with Seattle Repertory Theatre.
The play takes place in 1985 in the Hill District neighborhood of Pittsburgh, the setting for most of Pittsburgh-native Wilson's plays, and tells the story of King and his friend, Mister, who try to make ends meet by selling refrigerators. King lives with his wife, Tonya, and his mother Ruby (a holdover character from Seven Guitars). Secrets and shared legacies are unearthed when Elmore, a suave gambler from Ruby's past, comes to visit.
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 "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 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).
Wilson won Pulitzer Prizes for Fences (1987) and The Piano Lesson (1990) and a Tony Award for Best Play for Fences. He won New York Drama Critics Circle awards for Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Fences, Joe Turner's Come and Gone, The Piano Lesson, Two Trains Running and Seven Guitars. He received a 1995 Emmy Award nomination for his screenplay adaptation of The Piano Lesson.