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August Wilson’s ‘Jitney’ Takes Two River Theater Audiences On A Great Journey

Written by The Two River Times. Posted in Arts & Entertainment

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Published on February 10, 2012 with No Comments

Some lessons take a lifetime to learn; some truths surface only after long struggle, and sometimes, getting to your destination requires a bumpy ride in a gypsy cab, on the “wrong” side of the city.

Anthony Chisholm as Fielding, a longtime jitney driver, in August Wilson’s "Jitney" at Two River Theater. Photo by T. Charles Erickson

When the phone rings in the sprung-sofa setting of a jitney cab company in August Wilson’s play Jitney (showing now through Feb. 25 at the The Two River Theatre in Red Bank), a disparate crew of drivers parry for the fare. And as they wile away the hours waiting for the phone to ring, they “get up in each other’s business” in a way that reveals their wisdom and their wounds, and ultimately, some important truths about being human.

Directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson, who is now appearing on Broadway in the new play Stick Fly, Jitney features a nine-member cast of veteran professional actors whose credits include Broadway, Off-Broadway, film and television.

Playwright Wilson, who died in 2005, set Jitney in his native Pittsburgh, where it debuted at the Allegheny Repertory Theatre in 1982. A revised version of the play was premiered in New York at the Second State Theatre in 2000.

Jitney was the first in what ultimately became a multi-award-winning, 10-cycle series of plays examining the African-American experience.

Roslyn Ruff and Brandon J. Dirden as the young lovers, Rena and Youngblood, in August Wilson’s "Jitney" at Two River Theater. Photo by T. Charles Erickson

The cast of Jitney, like the playwright, is black, and the characters speak in the context of their culture, their speech tinged with the rhythm of the blues as they banter and battle with each other in this dilapidated cab depot down the street from the store with the great fish sandwiches.

There’s Youngblood (Brandon J. Dirden), a young Vietnam veteran who needs to make some decisions in his life.

His girlfriend, Rena (Roslyn Ruff) knows where she is going – but is he ready and willing to make the journey with her?

Fielding (Anthony Chisholm), is a guy with a colorful past who keeps a bottle in the pockets of his rumpled, once elegant suit.

There’s Turnbo (Allie Woods, Jr.), whose meddling incites a fight that veers close to tragedy before he gets back into line.

Becker (Chuck Cooper), who owns the depot, is a solid, dependable figure who started the business after retiring from 27 years of respectable labor at the local mill.

It’s Becker that keeps things together when tensions mount and violence threatens to explode — but his steadfast ways conceal the most despairing of souls and the most broken of hearts.

The cab depot is a college of sorts, a place where younger men learn from old and vice versa; where hard truths get confronted and where illusions are laid to rest as realities are born.

But things are changing in Pittsburgh. The businesses in this long-neglected part of the city are about to be torn down to make way for a renewal project that the denizens of the Jitney cab company have reason to doubt will ever actually happen. Eviction is only weeks away. Should they fight it and hang on? Or just move on?

The larger question is echoed by the individual choices each character must make.

Performances of Jitney take place Wednesdays at 1 and 7 p.m.; Thursdays and Fridays at 8 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m..

Tickets may be reserved by calling (732) 345-1400 or visiting the theater’s website at www.TRTC.org

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