West Coast Florida
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When all of the acting is as good as what is seen here, much credit must go to director, Jim Weaver. Jitney was the first of the plays that came to be known as the August Wilson centennial cycle. In each play, the author illuminates the socio-economic plight of the black race, sometimes through a single dramatic situation (Ma Rainey's Black Bottom) but more often, as in this play via an examination of a slice of life. The play is a rich tapestry of lives being lived. Mr. Weaver has paced his production well, never allowing us to lose the connectedness of the various characters and their stories.
The cast is led by Alfred H. Wilson giving a nuanced performance as Becker, the owner of the Jitney business where all the action takes place. He is solid father figure to all except his own formally troubled son, played by Don Laurin Johnson. Mr. Johnson is perhaps a few years younger than the character, and his performance lacks the depth of despair that might be expected from a man who has spent 20 years in prison. Still, he rises to the challenge of the explosive confrontation between father and son that ends act one. He more than holds his own against the emotional powerhouse performance of Mr. Wilson.
Other especially strong performances include Horace Smith as Turnbo, Steven McKenzy as Doub, and Ron-Bobb Semple as Fielding. Turnbo is the local busybody and Mr. Smith brings that out well as well as the depth of caring in a rich performance. Mr. McKenzy's character is also a strong father type, and he brings dignity to the role. The character of Fielding has a long time problem and love affair with the liquor bottle, and Mr. Semple has a good time with the showy aspects of the role and also finds the pervasive sadness. Local favorite Will Little as the youngest Jitney driver, Youngblood, is on long slow-burn, but also manages the tenderness he feels for his child and the child's mother, played with great range by Dhakeria Cunningham. Both of these actors were excellent in last year's production of A Raisin in the Sun and continue that level here. Andrew Drake as Shealy, a local numbers runner, is flashy in his youthful exuberance, and will benefit from the exposure to more seasoned actors. Martin Taylor is poised in the small role of Philmore.
The technical elements of the production also continue at a higher level this season. The outstanding set by Jim Florek is rich with period details, the coin operated pay phone is out of date in 1977, exactly what was likely to be at an economically challenged business of that era. Ditto for the hanging light fixtures, stylish for 1950s, a holdover in a run down building in danger of being torn down for urban renewal. Even the radio that plays proper period music is a model current a decade before. Costumes are all illuminating and appropriate for the characters, with changes from scene to scene, an outstanding job by costumer Kathleen Marinacci. All of the usual suspects, Stage Manager Juanita Munford, Lighting Designer Michael Pasquini and Production Manager James (Jay) E. Dodge (although not behind his usual bass) contribute excellent work to a production that might just be the best single production I have ever seen at WBTT.
August Wilson's Jitney presented by WBTT Theater, 1646 10th Way, Sarasota, Florida, 366-1505. Through February 3, 2013. For more information, visit www.wbttsrq.org.
Cast (in alphabetical order)
Directed by Jim Weaver