With this fourth foray into his Pittsburgh cycle, playwright August Wilson crafts another masterwork with The Piano Lesson. Wilson's play, once again, captures an era rich in detail in African American history, and ponders the meaning of the word legacy, and how it applies to different individuals. The Black Rep's current production is very nicely crafted and performed, and if you haven't seen it yet, there's still time. It's certainly a journey well worth taking.
It's 1937 and Boy Willie (an exuberant Ronald L. Connor) and his soft spoken buddy Lymon (a splendid Chauncy Thomas) have returned to Pittsburgh with a truckload of watermelons to sell. It's Boy Willie's hope that he can parlay that cash, along with the funds he hopes to accrue from the sale of the family piano, into a parcel of land down south that his family toiled upon as slaves of the Sutter clan. But his sister Berniece (a transcendent Sharisa Whatley) has other ideas. She sees the piano as the Doaker Charles family's legacy, and has no intention of letting it go, even though she hasn't played it in years. Doaker (a terrific Robert Mitchell) remains neutral in the battle between siblings, and in a wonderful scene, explains the elaborate carvings that grace the instrument, and it's heritage. But, the piano is, in fact, haunted by Sutter's ghost, and the first act ends with Berniece's daughter Maretha (the cute Carli Officer) screaming as she sees an apparition.
Boy Willie laughs off any potential haunting, but events transpire that make him wonder. His sister will have none of his nonsense concerning the sale of the piano, and blames him for the death of her husband Crawley. A visit by the musically inclined Wining Boy (solidly portrayed by Ethan H. Jones) reveals more supernatural happenings. Avery (enthusiastically played by Robert Lee Davis III), who has aspirations of running his own church, and who has his eyes on Berniece, even attempts a religious intervention to rid the house of spirits. Grace (nicely essayed by Candice Jeanine), draws attention from Boy Willie and Lymon, and, not being a member of the family, feels a strange tension in the house brought on by the spirits.
Lorna Littleway directs with passion and a keen eye for detail. Tim Case's scenic design deftly brings to life the multi-story Charles household, while Jim Burwinkel's lighting and projections add considerably to the spooky mood that permeates the proceedings. Darryl Harris provides period costuming that also fits the various characters well.
The Black Rep's stellar production of The Piano Lesson is not to be missed and continues through February 3, 2013 at the Grandel Theatre.