August Wilson Center

November 13 – 21
Various times

Certain names are synonymous with Pittsburgh’s legacy in industry, innovation and culture. Think: George Westinghouse, Andy Warhol, Rachel Carson. Among the most noteworthy in Pittsburgh’s rich arts and cultural heritage is that of playwright August Wilson.

Courtesy of The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust
Photo by Chris Chapman.

Fans of Wilson’s work and modern American drama in general won’t want to miss the chance to see a very special production of The Piano Lesson co-presented by The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust and Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company.

Artwork by Vanessa German
Artwork by Vanessa German

Wilson’s fourth play—and the work that landed him his second Pulitzer Prize in 1990 (he is one of only seven American playwrights to win two), The Piano Lesson is part of the 10-part Pittsburgh Cycle.

Audiences will be transported to Pittsburgh during the aftermath of the Depression in the year 1936, into the heart of a family conflict that revolves around the Doaker Charles household and their heirloom piano. Via Wilson’s rich characters and poignant drama, audiences will ponder questions such as “What do you do with your legacy, and how do you best put it to use?”

Inspired by a colorful painting created by the American collage artist Romare Bearden—who graduated from Pittsburgh’s Peabody High School in 1929—The Piano Lesson explores complex themes such as the legacy of slavery, the supernatural, ancestry, spirituality, self-worth and African-American history.

The talented cast features Wali Jamal (Boy Willie), Karla C. Payne (Berniece Charles), Kevin Brown (Doaker), Edwin Lee Gibson (Avery), Garbie Dukes (Wining Boy), Monteze Freeman (Lymon), Nia Woodson and Trysta Mirilei Fields (Maretha) and Brenda Marks (Grace).

Courtesy of The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust
Photo by Chris Chapman.

The timely staging of The Piano Lesson in Pittsburgh has further local significance.

The celebrated work—which also garnered Wilson the 1990 Circle Award for Best Play from the New York Drama Critics—is directed by Mark Clayton Southers, founder and producing artistic director of Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company. Southers, who was seriously injured in a car accident in early 2015, was originally going to act in the production and is now at the helm as director. A GoFundMe campaign has been established to help offset Southers’ medical bills, and a “ReMarkAble” benefit for him is set for November 23rd at the August Wilson Center.

The production also marks the first theatrical event to take place at downtown’s August Wilson Center since it was saved by The Richard King Mellon Foundation, The Heinz Endowments, citizens and local organizations.

Helping to bring Wilson’s timeless story to life is original collage art designed by Pittsburgh-based poet, performer, photographer and sculptor Vanessa German, who was commissioned to create the work specifically for the show.

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Jennifer has worked at the Mattress Factory, Brooklyn Museum of Art and Dahesh Museum of Art and is co-author of Pittsburgh Signs Project: 250 Signs of Western Pennsylvania. She also is co-coordinator of Handmade Arcade. Musically, she is in a band called The Garment District and is a founding member of Brooklyn's The Ladybug Transistor.