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Seven Guitars
American Stage

Seven Guitars

American Stage, St. Petersburg, Florida, is presenting Seven Guitars by August Wilson, part of their 10-year project to present all of Wilson's cycle of plays presenting snapshots of The Black Race in each decade of the 20th century. So far, they have presented Gem of the Ocean, King Hedley II, Fences, and Ma Rainey's Black Bottom with The Piano Lesson, Two Trains Running, Jitney, Radio Golf and Joe Turner's Come and Gone to come in future seasons. I have been privileged to have seen the last two productions, and August Wilson seems to bring out the best that the theater has to offer, very strong acting and overall productions. Many of the actors return from year to year to participate in this undertaking.

Before this ongoing endeavor, I had only seen three of the plays in unrelated productions (Ma Rainey, Fences and Gem of the Ocean). It is my opinion that several of the plays are of exceptional quality and stand well on their own, while others are not quite as universal, but draw power from being part of a huge dramatic tapestry. I think an ideal way to experience these plays might be to see them in historical order, over a not too drawn out time frame. Seven Guitars falls in the later category, it is hard for audiences to comprehend exactly what is going on in the first act, although it pulls together dramatically in the second. I overheard many audience members expressing bewilderment at the beginning of the intermission. I don't this was the fault of the production.

Many of Wilson's plays are ensemble pieces, and this one is very much so. Each of the seven actors in the company seem to become part of a small community of friends and associates with a shared history. The exceptional directing by Bob Devin Jones brings out the relationships with a very sharp eye for small details, such as the physicality of the movements of the women, different with each other than with the men folk. A short scene at the beginning of the second act featuring the three women is very telling: I was able to detect strong differences in the relationship of two women who are close friends and confidants as opposed to the third woman, a niece of one of them who had only recently arrived. The performances from the men are equally vivid. I wonder how much of this comes from several years of working together on these productions. All of the actors give rich portrayals of these characters, especially Joshua Elijah Reese as Floyd and Ambe Williams as Vera at the dramatic center of the play.

The setting, the backyard of a multi-family home in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, 1948, is brilliantly realized by Frank Chavez. One can feel the poverty in the air and see the wear and tear on steps, doors and fences, all part of the emotional landscape. Costumes by Saidah Ben Judah catch the post-war era stylings. All of the other technical elements serve the production well.

American Stage Theater Company presents August Wilson's Seven Guitars through February 26, 2012, at the Raymond James Theatre, 163 3rd Street North in St. Petersburg. For ticket and performance information, visit americanstage.org.

Cast
Louise: Tia Jemison
Red Carter: Alan Bomar Jones
Canewell: Kim Sullivan
Vera: Ambe Williams
Hedley: Ron Bobb-Semple
Floyd: Joshua Elijah Reese
Ruby: Brandy Grant

Direction: Bob Devin Jones
Set Design: Frank Chavez
Lighting Design: Joseph P. Oshry
Costume Design: Saidah Ben Judah
Production Stage Manager/Sound Design: T. Scott Wooten


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--William S. Oser



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