HOUSTON -- "When you mine any August Wilson play, you must think about context," observed director Jonathan Wilson (no relation) as he readied the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright's Seven Guitars for the Alley Theatre in Houston. A co-production with Seattle Repertory Theatre (where it played this past January), Seven Guitars opens at the Alley February 18 and runs through March 14.
Establishing relationships is key to August Wilson's works, said Jonathan Wilson, who heads the theater department at Loyola University, since story lines seem tangential and repetitive. "With August, there may seem to be lots of talk philosophizing, but there is tension in every scene." What some critics of the playwright call digression-- his storytelling/ song asides--the director defends as necessary. "August understands that so much of the culture has to do with oral traditions: the food we eat, the religions we confess to, the diversions we engage in, the struggles we endure." August Wilson attended rehearsals in Seattle, emphasizing the rhythm to his words and to the characters' motivations: the beat of black life.
An ensemble of voices, Seven Guitars gravitates around Floyd "Schoolboy" Baron, a blues guitarist from Pittsburgh pursuing a recording contract in 1948 Chicago. Friends and lovers, neighbors and band mates converge and diverge in Wilson-the-dramatist's latest addition to his cycle of plays exploring the African-American experience decade by decade in the twentieth century.
" Seven Guitars is about black people taking care of one another, even though on the surface it may seem the opposite," concluded Jonathan Wilson. Despite some characters' being prone to violence, "in the 1940s, people supported each other. August is sad that today's black people have lost this commitment."
Seven Guitars runs February 18 - March 14 at the Alley Theatre in Houston. For tickets, $31 - $46, call (713) 228-8421.