Playwright: August Wilson
At: Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport Ave. Tickets: $35. Runs Through: Feb. 11
In a time where there was no Uber, Lyft or ridesharing, people were still looking for discounts on traveling from place to place. The word "jitney" refers to transportation using a vehicle for a lower fare.
The setting of August Wilson's Jitney takes place in Becker's unlicensed cab station in Pittsburgh in the '70s. The story surrounds a group of men all trying to make a dollar while navigating through life. Residents continually call the business to a pay phone on the wall so the characters run in and out throughout the show when work beckons.
Congo Square Theatre attempts to bring new life into the eighth play in August Wilson's Pittsburgh Cycle. This was the only one of Wilson's classic Pittsburgh pieces that did not appear on Broadway under its original run. There are changes that could be made to make the road smoother certainly with this one.
Ever watched the TV show Taxi? There are thousands of stories to be told here, and that can be a train wreck. Jitney could be edited, making it a shorter journey. As it stands now the running time was almost three hours, including the intermission. On opening night the theater was extremely hot and fanning like in a church was suggested as a remedy. There were some slow transitions and some of the story could have easily been trimmed down. Having the actors sit behind a see-through scrim while waiting for individual scenes seemed to be an unnecessary choice from director Cheryl Lynn Bruce. They were sweating enough from all the heavy lifting in the roles and have earned more of a break when not onstage.
A father-and-son relationship is a plot line, along with the debate of who is more beautiful: Lena Horne or Sarah Vaughan.
Most of the cast is so realistic that it doesn't seem like acting. These veteran Chicago actors add nuances and mannerisms that are very effective. Some of the cast are stand outs from the rest. Anthony Irons has some nice moments with the gossipy Turnbo and Ernest Perry as Fielding was very memorable, even after a few "nips." Frederick Paul Williams shares stories so well as the bookie Shealy that he deserves his own spinoff.
Ronald L. Connor is Booster, the son of owner Becker, the weaker of the cast. There is no LGBT content in this piece, so a nice twist would have been to make the character gaybut Wilson has too much going on in the show as is. There is a whole other plot point of a driver named Youngblood buying a house for his girlfriend that ultimately doesn't go anywhere. We really just need these sometimes hilarious interactions with the men.
The struggles of the working man can sometimes be difficult to watch, but this troupe will take audiences for an enjoyable ride. ‹