“THE PIANO LESSON” RETURNS TRIUMPHANTLY TO YALE REP

 


BONNIE GOLDBERG

The Charles family of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is in possession of a vivid symbol of its heritage, an heirloom that attests to its history.

It is a prized piano, almost a century and a half old, that depicts in picture form the family’s slave roots, births, weddings and deaths.  The piano was carved by the grandfather and was originally an anniversary gift from their white slave master Mr. Sutter to his wife.

Now, in 1936, one morning at dawn, Boy Willie Charles (LeRoy McClain) has arrived on the doorstep of the house owned by his uncle Doaker (Keith Randolph Smith).  Doeker, a chef for the railroad, lets his niece Berniece (Eisa Davis) and her eleven year old daughter Maretha (Malenky Welsh) reside with him.  Boy Willie, hailing from Mississippi with a broken-down truck stuffed with watermelons, dragging along his friend and partner Lymon (Charles Hudson, III) has come, unannounced and uninvited, to invade the space that his sister Berniece is occupying.

To witness the confrontation between Boy Willie and Berniece, and enjoy dramatic theater at its finest, come to New Haven’s Yale Repertory Theatre by Saturday, February 19, to see August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize winning play “The Piano Lesson.”

One of Wilson’s cycle of ten plays that mark each decade of the twentieth century about African-Americans in and around Pittsburgh, “The Piano Lesson” had its world premiere at the Yale Rep in 1987.  Now this involving family drama is home again, with a fine cast under the taut direction of Liesl Tommy, on a two-level set by Dede M. Ayite, with costumes by Jennifer Salim and original music by Eisa Davis.

Boy Willie, who has been in prison for the last three years and may or may not by responsible for Berniece’s husband Crawley’s death in a robbery gone wrong, is obsessed with the idea of being a landowner.  The only land he wants is the land owned by the former slave owner Sutter who died mysteriously and whose ghost is inhabiting Berniece’s home.  To buy the land, Boy Willie insists the famed family piano be sold.

Berniece is equally convinced that the piano never be sold.  Their father lost his life stealing it from the Sutter family, believing they could never be truly free until the piano was theirs.  Even Berniece’s suitor Avery (Tyrone Mitchell Henderson) was unsuccessful in getting her to sell it or to donate to his church.  The tension of the drama is broken with the entrance of the charming and often drunken uncle Wining Boy (Charles Weldon) and Boy Willie’s eager girl friend Grace (Joniece Abbott-Pratt).

Who will win this tug of war battle over the family legacy is at the heart and soul of the drama, as Berniece clings to the injustices of the past while Boy Willie looks to the promise of the future?

For tickets ($10-85), call the Yale Rep, 1120 Chapel Street, New Haven at 203-432-1234 or online at www.yalerep.org.  Performances are Tuesday –Saturday at 8 p.m., with matinees Saturday at 2 p.m., with a talk back Saturday, February 12 at approximately 5:30 p.m.

With a piano in a place of pride, it is no wonder that music from blues to boogie-woogie to railroad songs radiate their glory.  Come and be caught up in the magical blend of harmony, heritage and hauntings.               

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