Wilson's Jitney Crew Heads for the NationalDate: 20 August 2001
The sell-out, off-Broadway production of August Wilson's Jitney will play at the National Theatre's Lyttelton for 34 performances only, opening on 16 October 2001. Jitney, which won the New York Drama Critics Circle award for Best New Play, features an all-American cast directed by Marion McClinton.
Many Americans regard August Wilson as their greatest living playwright, with his work renowned for exploring the lives of African-Americans. Jitney (the US term for an unlicensed cab company) is set in 1970s Pittsburgh and portrays the everyday struggles of the local drivers. Based around the city's Hill District, Jitney's, cabbie community is forced to reckon with impending changes as its traditional livelihood crumbles. The play recently ran in New York for 18 months, but was first produced in 1978 and revived in 1997 at the Carolina National Black Theatre Festival.
Born in Pittsburgh, Wilson flunked out of school and claimed the city's libraries gave him his education. He became involved in the 1960s civil rights movement, and after moving to Minneapolis, began to write texts influenced by blues music and the black neighbourhoods of Pittsburgh. In 1968 he founded the Black Horizon Theatre Company and began work on Jitney in 1972.
Wilson's first commercial success, however, came in 1984 when Ma Rainey's Black Bottom appeared on Broadway and also won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award. A number of works followed, chronicling African-American experiences, including Fences, Joe Turner's Come and Gone and Two Trains Running. His latest drama, King Hedley II, opened on Broadway in April 2001 starring Tony award-winner Brian Stokes-Mitchell.
Jitney represents the second of Wilson's works to appear at the National, following Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (directed by Howard Davies) in 1989. The cast includes Leo V Finnie III (pictured left), Barry Shabaka (pictured right), Linda Powell and Randolph Smith. Set design is by David Gallo, costumes by Susan Hilferty and lighting by Donald Holder.
- by Gareth Thompson