By Kenya Bonner
“All you need in the world is love and laughter. That’s all anybody needs. To have love in one hand and laughter in the other.” -August Wilson
This fall marks 10 years since the death of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson. Wilson would have turned 70 this fall. Known for his ability to find humor within tragedy, his work includes a series of 10 plays, each one set in a different decade, providing an insight into the 20th century African American experience.
The Goodman Theatre is the centerpoint for the city-wide August Wilson Celebration, running through April 18. The Theatre began a relationship with the playwright early on and was the first theater to produce and run all 10 of Wilson’s plays. Curator Chuck Smith, together with Constanza Romero (Wilson’s widow), Ron OJ Parson (actor) and Dr. Harvey Young of Northwestern University have assembled a lineup of readings, educational seminars, discussions, poetry and more. The Goodman has partnered with more than 20 Chicago theatres and organizations, extending from the Pullman neighborhood to Evanston.
The Goodman stage itself is hosting Wilson’s Tony-nominated play, “Two Trains Running,” directed by Chuck Smith. “Two Trains Running” is the 7th in his 10-part Century Cycle; all of the plays are set in Pittsburgh’s Hill District except for the 1920s-era “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” which is set in Chicago. Tickets are $27-$80 at GoodmanTheatre.org/TwoTrains or 312.443.3800.
“Two Trains Running” is set in the Memphis diner in 1969. The play mentions little news of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech or Jackie Robinson’s imminent entry into the baseball Hall of Fame. Wilson said this was done purposely because he wanted to make a point that by the end of 1969 nothing had changed for the Black Man.
The following concert readings of Wilson’s 10-play cycle are free to the public although reservations may be required:
Seven Guitars | Tuesday, March 24 | 7 p.m. at Chicago State University, Breakey Theatre (9501 S. King Drive)
Presented by Goodman Theatre, Directed by Aaron Todd Douglas
Reserve tickets: 773.995.4512 or CSU.edu
Friends and family recall the hopeful future that lay in store for rising blues star Floyd “Schoolboy” Barton who has an unexpected clash with Hedley, a mystical old man from New Orleans.
Joe Turner’s Come and Gone | Saturday, March 28 | 2 p.m. at Beverly Arts Center (2407 W. 111th St.)
Presented by MPAACT, Directed by Reginald Lawrence
Reserve tickets: 773.445.3838 or BeverlyArtCenter.org
Seth and Bertha Holly’s Pittsburgh boarding house hosts a variety of travelers as they journey from the South to find opportunities in the North during the Great Migration.
Gem of the Ocean | Tuesday, March 31 | 7 p.m. at Pullman National Monument Info Center (11141 Cottage Grove Ave.)
Presented by Goodman Theatre
Reserve tickets: 773.785.8901 or PullmanArts.org or PullmanIL.org
The “20th Century Cycle” begins with this drama. Set in 1904, the play introduces audiences to Aunt Ester, a much sought-out mystic and faith healer whose home serves as a center for the community.
The Piano Lesson | Saturday, April 4 | 2 p.m. at Evanston Public Library (1703 Orrington Ave.)
Presented by Fleetwood-Jourdain, Directed by Aaron Todd Douglas
Reserve tickets: 847.448.8620 or EPL.org/pianolesson
Wilson’s Depression-era drama pits Boy Willie against his sister, Berniece. Berniece hopes to pass the family heirloom piano to her young daughter, while Boy Willie hopes to sell it and use the money to build a new life.
Radio Golf | Monday, April 6 | 7 p.m. at Court Theatre (5535 S. Ellis Ave.)
Presented by Court Theatre, Directed by Ron OJ Parson
Reserve tickets: 773.753.4472 | CourtTheatre.org
Harmond Wilks is an ambitious real estate developer whose plans for a slick new venture will likely make him Pittsburgh’s first black mayor. Everything proceeds smoothly until the arrival of a mysterious stranger forces Wilks to reconsider his path to (and definition of) success. Wilson’s final work for the stage, Radio Golf marks a triumphant conclusion to his “20th Century Cycle.”
Jitney | Tuesday, April 14 | 7 p.m. at Goodman Theatre
Presented by eta Creative Arts Foundation, Directed by Kamesha Khan
Reserve tickets: 708.926.4641
Wilson’s first play demonstrates his gift for capturing the rhythms and power of language. Becker manages the jitney cab station where Turnbo, Youngblood, Fielding and Doub struggle to make ends meet and work their way out of hustling Pittsburgh’s streets.
King Hedley II | Saturday, April 18 | 2 p.m. at DuSable Museum (740 E. 56th Pl.)
Presented by Congo Square Theatre Company, Directed by Daniel Bryant
Reserve tickets: 773.296.1108 | CongoSquareTheatre.org
After his release from prison, King Hedley II, son to the troubled Hedley of Wilson’s Seven Guitars, returns home to find himself adrift in the fast-paced era of Reaganomics.
For more events, please visit http://www.goodmantheatre.org/90/index.php/august-wilson-celebration