Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Jitney
Arena Stage
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule (updated)

Also see Susan's reviews of Fairview and What the Constitution Means to Me


Steven Anthony Jones and Francois Battiste
Photo by Joan Marcus
Arena Stage in Washington is showcasing the work of August Wilson in conjunction with its 70th-anniversary season, starting off with an exemplary production of Jitney.

Director Ruben Santiago-Hudson's staging in the Kreeger Theater is based on his 2017 Broadway production, which won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play, and includes the design team and several actors from that production. Following the Arena run, it will travel to Detroit, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Seattle.

Wilson returns to certain themes throughout the cycle: a community trying to maintain stability in the midst of societal upheaval and wondering how to react to it, as well as the sometimes fraught relationship between fathers and sons.

In Jitney, the year is 1977. Jim Becker (Steven Anthony Jones), owner of a jitney (unlicensed cab) company in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, tries to help driver Youngblood (Amari Cheatom), a Vietnam War veteran working to support his girlfriend Rena (Nija Okoro) and their child. But while he cares about this surrogate son, he's torn over how to treat his own son Booster (Francois Battiste), once a promising college student, now a convicted murderer released after a 20-year prison sentence.

Wilson was a genius in creating characters through colloquial, seemingly aimless speeches and conversations, and Santiago-Hudson is working with a cast who know how to pick up on the buried bits of subtext and make them sing. Anthony Chisholm is spellbinding as Fielding, once a tailor and now a jitney driver when he isn't drunk, and Ray Anthony Thomas captures the split-second mood shifts of Turnbo, a cheerful gossip who can turn dangerous if threatened. Harvy Blanks is frequently hilarious as Shealy, a numbers runner who hangs out in the jitney station, in part because of the way Toni-Leslie James' costumes recall the zaniest extremes of period fashion.

The human dramas take place on David Gallo's breathtaking scenic design, from the exposed beams in the wall to the expansive windows, the mismatched furniture, and the monochrome photo backdrop of the neighborhood. Bill Sims Jr. contributes original music that echoes the sound of 1970s soul.

Arena Stage Artistic Director Molly Smith has noted that the company has presented more works by Wilson than any other playwright in its history: nine of the 10 plays in his "Century Cycle" by the end of the season. Seven Guitars is coming in the spring of 2020.

Arena Stage
Jitney
September 13th - October 20th, 2019
By August Wilson
Booster: Francois Battiste
Shealy: Harvy Blanks
Youngblood: Amari Cheatom
Fielding: Anthony Chisholm
Philmore: Brian D. Coats
Becker: Steven Anthony Jones
Rena: Nija Okoro
Doub: Keith Randolph Smith
Turnbo: Ray Anthony Thomas
Directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson
Kreeger Theater, Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater
1101 6th St. SW
Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-488-3300 or www.arenastage.org


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