Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Round House Theatre in Bethesda, Maryland, is presenting actor Eugene Lee as Wilson in How I Learned What I Learned, an engrossing solo show co-conceived and directed by Todd Kreidler, following the playwright through reminiscences of his early life and the Hill District of Pittsburgh that formed the basis of his career as a storyteller. Wilson himself performed the work once before his death.
It should be noted that audiences already familiar with Wilson's plays will appreciate this solo performance more than those who haven't experienced his dreamers, strivers, mystics, hard-boiled pragmatists, and people trying to hold onto the lessons of the past.
Lee moves easily through David Gallo's sculptural set, which (as the program notes explain) integrates items that appeared in the 10 plays into a rough lot similar to those found in the Hill District. The "backdrop" is built from thousands of individual sheets of paper.
Wilson tells of how the Hill District had a diverse population of African Americans and immigrants in 1937, when his mother moved there from the South. By 1965, it was almost exclusively African American, with widespread poverty and crimebut he found a way out through reading extensively, expressing himself through poetry, befriending artists, and learning from everything he could find.
The stories of African Americans dismissed out of hand by white "good, honest Americans" who saw them only as potential criminals, of finding transcendence through the music of John Coltrane, of fighting through the pain to discover something new and unexpectedWilson took these and synthesized them into glowing works of art.
Round House Theatre