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Riding Along with Jitney

Daughters of Lorraine Podcast Episode #3

Daughters of Lorraine podcast logo of two smiling black women

Daughters of Lorraine Podcast logo by Clarissa Bittes.

Leticia Ridley: Welcome to Daughters of Lorraine, a podcast from your friendly neighborhood Black Feminists, exploring the legacies and future of Black Theatre. We are your hosts, Leticia Ridley

Jordan Ealey: and Jordan Ealey. On this podcast we will discuss Black Theatre history. We'll have interviews with Black Theatre artists and practitioners and we'll discuss plays by Black playwrights that have our minds buzzing. You don't want to miss this. Stay tuned.


I think that there is a way that we talk about [gentrification] today, as something that's like just happening or like even like five years ago this started happening, but I think August Wilson's dramas show us that this has been a consistent conversation in Black communities.

two actors onstage

(R to L) Steven Anthony Jones (Becker) and Francois Battiste (Booster) in Jitney at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Jordan: August Wilson’s Jitney premiered at the Allegheny Repertory Theatre in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1982. It was the first play he wrote as a part of what would eventually become the famed Pittsburgh Cycle. The Cycle comprised of 10 plays and each decade of the 20th century featuring narratives about residents of Pittsburgh's Hill District and the structural oppression they contend with every day.

All of the plays except one are set in Pittsburgh and serve as a powerful African American historical project representing Wilson's influences of what he called the four B's: the blues, the poet and essayist Jorge Louis Borges, the playwright Amiri Baraka, and the painter Romare Bearden.

Leticia: Despite Wilson's resounding success as a playwright with several Broadway premieres and one of the few playwrights to have garnered two Pulitzer prizes for drama, Jitney did not arrive on Broadway until 2017. Jitney's Broadway production garnered critical acclaim and won the 2017 Tony Award for Best Revival. This production, getting ready to embark on national tour, recently made their first stop at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., co-produced with Manhattan Theatre Club alongside Eric Falkinstein, Ron Simmons, John Legend, and Mike Jackson and Can Worth and directed by American theatre giant Ruben Santiago Hudson. Jitney tells a story of a jitney station in Pittsburgh and the drivers who have to contend with structural forces that threatened their livelihood.

Jordan: All right. All right, so today's episode is all about our boy, the King of Black Theatre, Mr. August Wilson himself. Just as an FYI to our listeners out there, Leticia and I recently spent 10 hours with August Wilson's work-

Leticia: Facts, facts. We definitely did. It was a long 10 hours because frankly, August Wilson was a long winded writer, as most of our great Black Theatre playwrights were.

Jordan: Yes.

Leticia: Lorraine, I'm looking at you.

Jordan: Yeah, shout out to Mama Lorraine.

Leticia: Mama Lorraine, very long winded, but nonetheless, yes, we did see three August Wilson plays in a week. We seen Radio Golf at Everyman Theatre. We seen Fences at Ford's Theatre. And then we seen Jitney at Arena Stage, which is the focus of the episode today.

Jordan: Yeah. And because all the plays that we saw were part of that 10 play cycle, it was really, really interesting to see those connections that happened among all of the scripts. It was really, really amazing to see even like other plays that we saw outside of that week of like for instance when we saw like Gem of the Ocean last year, versus then seeing Radio Golf and like the clear connections between those scripts. And then seeing the first play that Wilson wrote a part of the cycle, which was Jitney for those who may not know. And then the last play that he wrote as a part of that cycle, which was Radio Golf. So, to see the sort of growth in Wilson's work, but also the connections among all the characters was really fascinating for me to see.

Leticia: I definitely agree with that. I think growth is something you definitely see in August Wilson's work and it really made me appreciate it as a sometime playwright. The ability for a practitioner to grow in their art a little bit more.

Jordan: Okay, sometimes playwright. So, before we really get into our conversation about the production that we saw of Jitney, I wanted to ask you had you read the play beforehand?

Leticia: I had not read Jitney before. This was my first time seeing the play. I was familiar with the sort of overarching theme, but I didn't have much details about like what happened or like, who the play was centered around. So, this is actually my first time encountering the play Jitney ever.

Jordan: Yeah. Yeah. Same here. Same here. I was really curious to see sort of where he began because I always knew this was the first one that he wrote, but I believe the eighth one in the cycle. So, I was really curious as to the, how the conception grew and you definitely see some of those resonances from Jitney and other plays in the cycle, but it was really great to see where it all began. So, one of the first things I would say that both of us really noticed was the set.

Leticia: Yes. Of course. Because usually when you encounter theatre, the first thing you encounter when you go into the theatre is the set before the show starts, you sit down, find your seats and this is kind of like you, the rest of the audience members getting settled and like the set. So, that's actually your really first introduction to most theatre that you're seeing.

So, the set was fantastic. For folks who are not familiar with the play, it does take place in a jitney shop, which is essentially like an old school version of like a cab service. So, the place where folks would call in and say, "Hey, I need a ride to the airport." Or "Hey, I need a ride to the grocery store." They would call this jitney shop and one of the employees would pick up the call, go get the person and take them to their destination. In this particular sort of formation of the jitney shop, the folks, the men are using their own cars and I think that's an important detail to talk about. But they had real cars on stage, which always boggles my mind.

Jordan: Yeah. The set was pretty, pretty incredible. I really enjoyed the work by Vivica Gardner who did the scenic design and the props were by Jen Sheets and I just thought it was amazing the things that they did with this set from things such as, like you mentioned those cars that were on stage, like to the very small details I noticed, like the couch had duct tape on it, right? Like it really, there was some serious dramaturgical like considerations given to the design of this set, which always makes an amazing set.

Leticia: I agree with that. I think the set detail was also just like a nice touch to the play so we can understand the condition of the world before a word was spoken. We could see that this jitney shop was not in like a new area like new shop, it seemed lived in, worn down paint—just to think about the details of the space paint—paint falling off the wall, like exposed pipes and things, stains on the floor. It was just so detailed and it really makes you appreciate it as a theatregoer. Just the thought that a set designer puts into the play because it really places us as audience members into the world and really allows us to give up that suspension of disbelief.

Jordan: Yeah, absolutely. And it really felt like the set design really complimented the detail that August Wilson puts into his scripts. And so, I really appreciated that, like you said, it's our first encounter with Jitney, right? Our first encounter with this world is through the set and to see, to shout out to set designers. The work that you all do is amazing.

So, that was really, really awesome. And then also another thing that is really important specifically in the work of August Wilson is that of the music. So, he had the four B's and one of them was the blues, and so how directors and sound designers create the soundscape of Wilson's work is super, super, super important. Right?

Leticia: I definitely agree with that. And just shout out to Brian Boochet and his assistant Steven D, great job on the soundscape because I think you're absolutely right. I think it's particularly hard to design sound for August Wilson's plays just because the way that he writes is so informed by music. Like you said, the B, one of the B stand for blues and you really get that in his language.

So what you don't want to do, I think it's a sound designer, as someone who has never designed sound in my life, you could though. Is really thinking about how do you make the sound not repetitive to the language. So it doesn't just seem like a copycat of the rhythm that people, the rhythm that actors are so to speak. And I think there was a very sort of distinct soundscape to the entire show that really sets the mood and the tone or the play throughout.

Jordan: Oh, yeah. I really agree with that because like you said, the dialogue of Wilson is so musical, right? Like there is a specific musicality to the way that he writes though the dialogue in his plays. So, it's really, really, truly important that also the music doesn't bog that down, right? Like that it compliments it. It doesn't, like just lay on top of it and it doesn't take us out of the world that Wilson is creating.

Jordan: And so, like you said, I really thought that the sound accomplish that beautifully, right? Like it's set this tone, it ushered us into the world, the world of the 70s, the very, it kind of gave me like Blaxploitation feel in many ways too of like the wordless sort of like what you're talking about sucker? Oh my goodness. Yeah. It really gave me a Blaxploitation feel and it was really truly important.

Leticia: I definitely agree with that. And just to reiterate something we sort of opened with is that, this was a touring production from Broadway. So, we're encountering the director who directed Jitney on Broadway. We're encountering the actors who were a part of the Broadway Production and I think it's an honor anytime you can see the Broadway girls coming down to like different places.

Jordan: Yeah. Totally, totally. And D.C. is such a theatre town, but like it was really, yeah, it's incredible to see a production that won the Tony Award for Best Revival. Like that's amazing.

Leticia: I agree with that. I think probably my favorite sort of rendition and one of the characters was Fielding by Anthony Chism. I think he just really picked up on Fielding’s cadences, Fielding for those of you who have not read the play is an alcoholic who used to be a tailor for a musician and sort of is down and out on his luck. He continues to talk about his wife that left him 10 years ago, but he just knows that she still loves him even though he hasn't seen her talk to her for like 10 years or so.

I just think he brought so much depth to that character that is in part, a funny comic relief character but is also sort of like this wise older Black man that really gives a depth to the play and sort of, the majority of the cast is men. So, he gives a way to think about sort of like the passing down of knowledge generationally among Black men in the community.

Jordan: Yeah, yeah. I definitely agree with that. And so, something about August Wilson, like we're talking about Chism's command of the dialogue. I think that that was something that was pretty consistent with many of the actors in the play and I really appreciated Ruben Santiago Hudson's direction and that you could see that he approached this with a level of care for the work. And I've heard this said a lot of different times of August Wilson is where you see a good August Wilson is really good. When you see a bad August Wilson, it can be pretty bad. Specifically if you're not in tune with that dialogue in the way that he writes.

And so what I really appreciated about, I would say all of the actors in this production was their attentiveness to the rhythms, and the patterns, and the flows. I mean, August Wilson is a very long winded playwright. But I felt like this play really moved and I have to give reverence to the direction and the acting for that movement and that pacing that was so well done. And it really, I didn't feel completely like weighted. Like I didn't feel like, “okay, when is the production going to be over.”

Leticia: I agree with everything you said. And I think it's particularly important because I think like the heart and the core of this play is actually the community among the men. And the way that they lean on each other, the way that they get into fights, the way that they talk about life experiences in the past, the way the older men in the jitney shop is looking after young blood who had just come back from the Vietnam war.

I think it is such an important element of the play and I think that it captures it in language, because that was one of the things that August Wilson did very, very well. And the language particularly speaks to, I think, the sort of community that he's trying to sort of build among the men and sort of the familiarity he's trying to sort of build with the men in the jitney shop.

Jordan: So, let's kind of shift a little bit, right? So, we have been talking about the community and the language and the dialogue, which are really important elements of Wilson's work. So, can we talk about like some themes, some thematic underpinnings of Jitney? You know, I love a theme.

Leticia: I know you do.

Jordan: So, one of the sort of like themes that is recurring in the Pittsburgh Cycle is that of gentrification. And that is definitely something that I see operating in Jitney. Specifically…

Leticia: We also see it in Radio Golf as well. One of the shows that we see sort of like, so like you said, this idea of gentrification particularly in Pittsburgh is something that it's consistent in all of Wilson's work. But also I think-

Jordan: Definitely.

Leticia: ... it's also important because it shows that gentrification is not something that is new. I think that there is a way that we talk about it today, as something that's like just happening or like even like five years ago this started happening, but I think August Wilson's dramas show us that this has been a consistent conversation in Black communities.

Jordan: Oh, absolutely. You're totally right about that. And disenfranchisement is already established from the beginning. Right? So we encountered this jitney station that is, like you said, sort of rundown, sort of like, I wouldn't say rundown. It's more of like it's peeling away, but it's like they're still trying to hold something together there.

Leticia: Which again, shout out to the set design, because that, I think, is a great physical description of the play.

Jordan: Right. Yeah.

Leticia: They're trying to hold on to something, the jitney shop itself, Jitney itself, the community that they have in this particular neighborhood that's just is being pilled away.

Jordan: Yeah, totally. And so, they're already sort of disenfranchised too, because the reason why they need the jitney station or the reason why it's in use is because taxicabs won't come to the Hill District. And so, that's a really big deal because folks need to get around. Right? And so, they've provided this service to Black people, but they're not able to get anywhere else. So, already we're ushered into this world that is, that needs, right? That needs this particular service.

Leticia: Yeah. And I think to sort of go back to sort of our conversation on gentrification is that it's interesting that this is a neighborhood where taxi services won't go into the Hill District of Pittsburgh to sort of service the folks who live there, but also this sort of double edged sword of them then wanting to come into the Hill District and develop it, and push these same people out.

And I think what we see is this sort of community organizing, not in the sense of like, we're going to protest so taxi cabs are going to service us, but like this really sort of wielding sort of community resources and like Black owned business, and servicing the community and the needs of the community in a way that is productive. And August Wilson depicts it throughout the play is like this is a sort of staple of the neighborhood.

Jordan: Yeah. And sort of how like, it's not particularly stated that this neighborhood may go on to be developed and all these things, but from seeing Radio Golf, right. We know that that's what’s happening, but this is the precursor to that, because it's being condemned, they're being evicted, they're trying to close down the business, like you said and they're sort of trying to foreclose any sort of progress that they can make.

And so, I think that what Wilson is doing is thinking about how Black people, how gentrification is not just, oh, a developer wants to come in and take this from me. Right? Like it starts with being condemned or being evicted or the rent gets too high, or all these sort of things compound. And then, the sort of last thing happens, which is like, nope, now we're going to knock this down. It's going to become a Holiday Inn or worse a Whole Foods.

Leticia: Yeah, yeah, yeah, definitely. And I think there's a moment in the play where Wilson particularly talks about, I think it's Booster, who talks about, they shut down the local chicken shack like five years ago and they haven't done anything with it. It's just sitting empty, condemned, and they're trying to push us out for whatever reason. Right?

Like you said, there's no necessarily discussion of them sort of building the town, the neighborhood up again, but I think that is important to think about gentrification because I think a lot of folks think gentrification is something that just sort of happens, but it's oftentimes levels to it. It starts with, like you said, the condemning of spaces and then 10 years later is when they go back in it when prices are super, super low, and try to "You don't see my air," revitalize the neighborhood. But when the revitalizing the neighborhood, the folks that are mostly harmed from this are Black and Brown folks.

Jordan: Absolutely. Absolutely. And since we're kind of talking about the plays in the cycle and how these fit into it, I really encourage you all if have listeners who haven't encountered Radio Golf, to read that play because I really feel that Wilson sets up so much that is then answered by Radio Golf. Right? And continue that conversation.

Leticia: I would reiterate that suggestion by Jordan because I think it's easy, particularly with Radio Golf. It also speaks to one of the last plays he wrote, Gem of the Ocean, and it speaks directly to it because some of the characters, children are in the play or there's like sort of generational nod to characters that we are familiar with and Wilson Cycle.

But I think it would be great, scholars, academics, people who want to write about things. I think you're absolutely right that there is something to talk about and perhaps someone already does, about how Jitney speaks to issues of gentrification that speaks directly to Radio Golf, which was August Wilson's last play that he wrote before he passed, if I remember correctly.

Jordan: Yeah. You're completely correct about that. Yeah. So go ahead and read that and please, please talk to us about it because we love to talk about Black Theatre.

Leticia: Yes. Black theatre. Well, I'm assuming if you're listening to this podcast, you also do love Black Theatre. So, welcome to the club. Maybe we should get T-Shirts and say we love Black Theatre.

Jordan: I'm down, I'm down. All right. So, kind of let's shift a bit to, so we talked about some gentrification and displacement and disenfranchisement, and how that disproportionately affects Black and Brown people and how Wilson dramatize this, that very real thing that is occurring all over our country, but specifically in the area that we live, right? Washington, D.C. I believe is one of the fastest gentrified places in the nation, which is absolutely just horrific, but it makes these plays have relevance that really speaks to the location. So, I just wanted to give a shout out to that.

Leticia: Yes, I reiterate the shout out. And also just thinking about sort of my own sort of personal experiences with gentrification. I think I actually didn't really understood the magnitude of it until I moved to D.C. Because for folks who don't know, I'm from California, Southern California and sort of the neighborhood that I grew up would probably be seen as a place that needed to be condemned so it can be revitalized. And now when I go home for holidays and such, these spaces are so much different than I remember them. They have the Whole Foods, they have the yoga studio, they have the hipster coffee shop.

And it's so interesting to sort of see how the neighborhood has shifted and the language that also has changed around a place that was described as ghetto, as dilapidated, that now it's very much like, Oh, this is like the new hip urban spot to hang out with, urban without all the Black and Brown folks.

Jordan: Yeah. And even in D.C., before I moved here and for listeners, I'm from Atlanta, which also has horrific gentrification going on down there. But before I moved to D.C., it was like, what do we know about D.C.? Chocolate City. Right. And so, I was very excited to move here because I'm like, I'm about to move, you know where a lot of Black and Brown people are.

And once I got here and just saw how just how much gentrification has affected the city, and then to see plays like Jitney and Radio Golf who stage those anxieties that plague Black and Brown people. It just made the place so much more salient for me and it made theatre have such a greater relevance than just sitting and watching a play. But it really made me consider the geographic space that even we were occupying and what that means for the Black and brown residents of D.C.

Leticia: That's why I tell people read drama. A lot of these issues that we're sort of seeing return or reoccur or come up out of hiding, is actually you could track a lot of these issues in drama because a lot of particularly Black theatre playwrights, are talking Black Theatre playwrights. What did I say? That's why I tell people to go to drama.

Drama has a way of connecting so many of the issues that we know to be true, we'll be our own lived experience. And particularly Black playwrights, ways of... in dealing, in interrogating their real life experiences or things that they see happening around them just gives us a different source of knowledge that is powerful besides thinking you always have to go to a non-fiction sources of truth. And I think that's really the power of theatre at large. The ability to sort of make these issues resonate in new ways, and also sort of track a genealogy of them.

Jordan: So, we've talked about some things that we saw and also like connecting them to the spaces that these theatres that we are sitting in occupy, which I think is super, super important. So, why don't we talk about our favorite thing to discuss? Gender.

Leticia: Gender.

Jordan: Gender.

Leticia: We're fools. Okay.

Jordan: Wait, they can't say we didn't warn them because we did say this is a podcast from your neighborhood, Black Feminists.

Leticia: Amen to that, sister. All right. So, something I really want to touch on is how gender is working in this play. So, let's start with the only woman in the play. Who is the character of Rena who was played quite skillfully by Nijah Okoro and... yeah. So...

Jordan: I think she's only on stage twice throughout the whole play on tire play and I think it runs about two hours and 15 minutes. And I would say she's probably on stage for, 10, 15 minutes or so, give or take. But it's interesting that the one Black woman in the play is one tied to a man in the play, that there's no women who also range it knees out of the jitney shop. And I don't know if that's the gender politics of the 70s or so, but I think Black women in particular have a different relationship to employment, and working, because Black women have most of the time always had to have a job to help sort of financially support the family. And I don't know if we would say the jitney shop or the folks who runs it is his name Becker? Becker is the lead.

Leticia: Yes. He's the owner of the jitney station.

Jordan: He's the owner of the jitney station. He seems like middle-class-ish and like something that he has aspired to. And particularly with his son where he talks about, I'd taken all this sort of like racial, saw these racial attacks from white folks because I wanted to ascend to a different class position so that you could have something different and that you could have something that I didn't have. But sorry, I'm getting on a tangent.

Back to our woman's name. Yes. So back to Rena. Rena is expertly played, like you said gender wise, she doesn't get much to do in the play for me because her whole entire arc is attached to Youngblood who is her boyfriend.

Leticia: Yeah. And I did find myself feeling really dissatisfied with her narrative, because it was sort of reinforcing this idea that like the relationality between Black women and Black men is that of Black women mistrusting Black men, or Black women trying to emasculate Black men. And I felt in many ways like that the narrative between Rena and Youngblood was recapitulating that narrative, because for those who are not familiar with the plot of Jitney that that particular arc is fostered around one of the characters of Turnbo who in this production has played very well by Ray Anthony Thomas, has been hearing whisperings of Youngblood running around in the streets with Rena's sister.

Jordan: Yeah. And I think he-

Leticia: He sees them.

Jordan: ... sees them in the car appearing to like sort of sneak around.

Leticia: Yes. So, Turnbo, when Rena comes to the jitney station one day, Turnbo tells her about this and is like, "Why do you let him treat you like that? You need you a real man in your life." And she's like, "I'm good." But she does confront Youngblood about his activities with her sister and is very upset with him about that. And we sort of leave that scene with her being very disappointed to find out this news and really sort of laying into him.

And Youngblood denying him, and us as audience members very much like, okay, Rena is in the right and Youngblood is in the wrong turns out, Youngblood was only with Rena's sister because he bought a house and wanted to get her sister's approval so that he can surprise Rena.

And something I did neglect to mention is, Youngblood actually took the grocery money that they had put aside for food for that. I believe that like that week or those two weeks. And she asked him about it. Rena asked Youngblood like, "Where's the money? Where's the money? Where's the money?" And Youngblood was like, "I had a debt, I had to pay. I had a debt, I had to pay," very sort of evading the question only to find out later on that he was using that money to finish off the payments of the house that he was buying for them.

So, them being Rena and their son. So, all of this it's not a bad narrative, it's just that it sort of reinscribe this idea that like, Oh, we're trying to keep a good Black man down kind of narrative and that there is a lack of trust that Black women inherently have of when they have like these sort of romantic relationships with Black men. And so, I was kind of disappointed, but I don't know. Not surprised. What about you? What do you think?

Jordan: I agree with everything that you said. I think we would not be in the minority, particularly among Black feminists who also do work around theatre that says that August Wilson at large has had an issue. Not an issue or I guess more like a difficulty with his Black women characters. He's actually gotten a lot of critique about the way that he treats Black women on stage, especially in a relationship with Black men.

So, often times you'll see in his plays, Black women only a part of the play because of their sort of status as wife or girlfriend. And that also being attached to their storyline and them not having much individuality outside of their partnership with a Black man, which I think is a valid critique of seeing many of August Wilson's plays.

I think there is a moment where we see him really contend with some of his sort of gender issues in his work. Which I appreciate to see the growth, but I think in this particular play in Jitney, this definitely suffers from a gender problem like you said. And that Rena, is not given much to do. Her only identities is mother and girlfriend. And I was really hoping for, or if August Wilson could have edited this play.

I would've liked to see a little bit more depth to her character. But all that being said, August Wilson can write. Rena had some very poignant things to say that I think really hit the production really well, in particular, this is just like a sidebar. When we seen it, we had an audience member who was wearing an assisted listening device and she would respond to everything in the play.

And I mean, "Ooh, ah, Oh." Absolutely. And it was really great because something as theatre and performance studies scholars that were interested in is audience, right? Like audience reception. And so, in Black Theatre or in Black like musical traditions or Black theatre traditions-

Leticia: Call and response?

Jordan: ... like performance, call and response, right? Call and response is a big thing in Black performance at large, whether it's theatre, film, dance, music, anything. Right? And so, I really enjoyed that the audience that we saw the play with was a lot of Black folks in the audience, which I thought was really great, which speaks to the work that is being done at Arena to reach out to Black folks. But like I really enjoyed seeing the production with folks of color because we are able to, there's so many different nuances that Wilson is able to give that really sort of resonate with Black people.

And so, it's really awesome to be an audience that's in on the joke, right? Like be with an audience that understands the importance of what Wilson is saying, but also like the humor, like the roasting, like all these sort of things like August Wilson is hilarious.

Leticia: Yeah. And again, folks, I just want you to bask in the joy that I felt having this woman, this Black woman respond to what she was seeing on stage. I think it's such a missed opportunity, particularly when we go see theatre often that folks are very much like, “Oh we sit here and be quiet and if something's funny we can laugh.” But like you said, this tradition of call and response in Black culture, it's just, I don't know, it does something to me effectively in the theatre. It just makes me enjoy it more. Like, let me give you some tidbits of what she said.

Before we go to intermission, There's this scene with Becker and his son who just recently got out of prison for serving a sentence for murdering someone. And literally the lights are going down. She says "Damn, August Wilson. Perfect timing." I'm telling you, I have never laughed so hard in the theatre. And I think it's also just an appreciation, like a verbal appreciation of the work that August Wilson also does.

There's a moment where Youngblood and Rena are like getting a little close to each other and she's like, "Woo, all sucky, sucky now." It was just so, yeah, I think it was just a really enjoyable experience. I love going to theatre. I love going to theatre with people that are like really engaged with theatre. So, I really appreciate it. Seen Jitney at Arena, seen the Broadway cast, the Broadway direction of Jitney and it was just a good time at the theatre.

We seen it with two of our really good friends and they were not familiar with the play before there. They're not necessarily theatre people in the sense that they are getting their PhD in theatre. But I really enjoyed it. How do you feel about sort of, overall, the production of Jitney and the play at large?

Jordan: I was incredibly moved by some moments in the production. Specifically the moment at the end of act one where that whole scene between Becker and his son that has been released from prison is just like, it's incredibly and skillfully written by Wilson. And then I was incredibly moved when we find out that Becker has passed on and that direction there, I just want to highlight this one moment before we close out is, when once Becker, yeah, once Becker's death is revealed and his son get like he punches the person who told him and then like the lights come down on him as he sort of cowers down and all of the men on stage sort of like reach out and touch him.

And it's like that sort of classic Wilsonian moment of spirituality, and healing, and transformation that will sometimes happen in a lot of the plays in the Cycle. This sort of recurrence of spirituality. And so I really appreciated that moment of camaraderie among the men of that moment to really sort of a laying of hands on this man who was mourning his father that he had a really, really, really complicated relationship with. So, that really stuck out to me.

It was definitely a beautiful moment of the play. And I think this is to the direction that it didn't seem forced, it seemed earned and we don't, that's the only moment like that. And I appreciate it because I think it it really focuses on the moment in a different way because the lighting's different, there's even this sort of choreography to the blocking that we don't get in any other moment of the play. So, I really appreciate this big moment being directed in such a way.

Leticia: So, we're on time, but before we close it out and give our book recommendations, I'm just curious Jordan, how many August Wilson plays have you seen?

Jordan: I have seen four. I've seen four August Wilson plays. What about you?

Leticia: I have seen five. I've seen Jitney now, I've seen Radio Golf, I've seen Gem of the Ocean. I've seen Two Trains Running; Two Trains Running was actually my first encounter with Black Theatre in high school at the Old Globe Theatre. And I didn't know that I would get a PhD in theatre and performance studies, but it really changed my life. And then my last one was Fences.

Jordan: Yeah. I just think that that speaks to the power of August Wilson and why he continues to be a staple in Black Theatre and really American theatre.

Leticia: Absolutely. What is your favorite August Wilson play? Can I ask that? Is that unfair?

Jordan: No, it's not unfair. Just a little bit. I'm just kidding. My favorite August Wilson play, it's really hard, but I definitely have to say The Piano Lesson, which was his other Pulitzer besides Fences. I just think that we did talk about like, the way that Wilson writes women, but I think that in that play Bernice is such a well written and really fun character for someone to play. What about you? What's your fave?

Leticia: My fave is Gem of the Ocean, one of the last plays that he wrote before his death. And what I love about that play, is just one the women I think are written like similar to Bernice is just written in a way that has more depth to it, which I appreciate, but also I just love the magic of the world and like this notion of legacy, them visiting the city of bones, which is sort of hearkening back to sort of transatlantic slavery and thinking about ancestors and that has to be my favorite August Wilson play.

Jordan: Yeah, totally. Like I agree. I think it's one of my favorites. So, for those of you who are interested in reading some scholarship on August Wilson, we got you covered right here on Daughters of Lorraine. So for one, I recommend you read the work of Dr. Sandra Shannon-

Leticia: The goat.

Jordan: ... who is the leading scholar on August Wilson. In particular, I recommend her books, the Dramatic Vision of August Wilson, and then her other book, which is MLA Approaches to Teaching the plays of August Wilson, which is an anthology that she edited. Which, one of the articles that I will recommend is by Dr. Faedra Chatard Carpenter, which is called “Teaching the Cycle: Understanding August Wilson’s Fractal Dramaturgy.” And just as a side note, shout out to Faedra Chatard Carpenter.

Leticia: She is our advisor and you'll probably hear her name a lot because we-

Jordan: Admire her work.

Leticia: ... admire her work and just admire her as a person. So, Faedra we know you're listening and we just want to tell you that we appreciate you.

Jordan: But also another article that I personally really, really love on August Wilson is Harry J. Elam’s article called “August Wilson, Doubling, Madness, and Modern African American Drama.” I highly, highly recommend it. He talks about racial madness in the work of August Wilson.

And then once you encountered those articles, Leticia and I just encourage you to read the Pittsburgh Cycle. Those plays are just incredible. If you are in a scholar, a practitioner or just an all around lover of Black Theatre, you can't throw a stone without hitting August Wilson, so please check out his work. There's a lot of it and he is absolutely fantastic.

Leticia: Yes, please know that these articles and books that we're recommending are really only scratching the surface of scholarship on August Wilson. You can go into Google scholar and you'll probably see tons and tons of articles or chapters covering the work of August Wilson. And I think that just reflects the impact that he has had on folks and the impact that his drama has had on scholarship and theatre at large.

Also, I just want to sort of shout out if you're interested in doing work on Wilson or being a community with folks who are doing work on him. Check out the August Wilson Society, which is presided by our friend and colleague, Dr. Khalid Yaya Long. Reach out to the folks of the August Wilson society. I think they have a conference or symposium or something coming up. Check out their work, support them because they're really invested in keeping the legacy of August Wilson alive.

Jordan: All right, so that wraps up today's episode of... We really, really hope that you enjoyed our conversation about Jitney by August Wilson, but also about sort of August Wilson's work at large, and we hope you'll read some of those articles and talk to us about it.

Leticia: Yes. And we just also want to extend some gratitude to HowlRound Theatre Commons for sponsoring Daughters of Lorraine and check out some of their other content if you haven't before. That concludes our episode. This has been Daughters of Lorraine. We are your hosts, Leticia Ridley.

Jordan: And Jordan Ealey.

Leticia: Next week we'll be discussing the history of Black playwrights representing slavery onstage. You won't want to miss this.

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Thoughts from the curators

Hosted by two doctoral theatre students, Jordan Ealey and Leticia Ridley, Daughters' of Lorraine Podcast features reviews of Black theatre productions (mainly in the DC/Baltimore area), current national conversations around, within, and about Black theatre, academic discussions concerning Black theatre, recommendations on Black theatre scripts, and interviews with Black theatre artists. This podcast centers and privileges the narratives of Black theatremakers, scholars, and audiences while also underscoring the need for understanding the influence of Black theatre on the American theatre landscape.

Daughters of Lorraine Podcast


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