Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Donald Eastman's idiosyncratic set fits perfectly on the expansive in-the-round Fichandler Stage: a small courtyard with a table and chairs (and cracked pavement underfoot), a garden plot, a work area where Hedley (David Emerson Toney) butchers chickens in preparation for his job selling hot sandwiches. It's 1948 in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, where Wilson grew up and the setting of all but one play in his 10-play Century Cycle.
While the play begins with the aftermath of a funeral, its action is powered by the shifting balance between life and death, love and righteous anger. Floyd "Schoolboy" Barton (Roderick Lawrence, wearing his emotions on his sleeve), an ambitious blues singer, returns home after a brief jail sentence to discover that his first record has become a hit. He has big plans of starting fresh in Chicago, which he shares with his bandmates Canewell (Michael Anthony Williams) and Red Carter (Eden Marryshow), his sometime lover Vera (Joy Jones), and his neighbors Hedley and Louise (Roz White).
In addition to Floyd's dream of wealth and fame and Hedley's pronouncements of the ascendence of the powerful Black man, the arrival of Louise's niece Ruby (Dane Figueroa Edidi) adds to the sense of unease as she (seemingly effortlessly) exerts a magnetic pull on all the men. These are elemental issues, and Thompson has guided the cast to work as necessary components of the whole: Edidi and Toney have the big moments, but Lawrence's dynamism and White's pragmatism also stand out.
Harry Nadal's costumes help bring the characters to life through details such as colorful vests, two-tone shoes, and a few breathtaking dresses.
Seven Guitars runs through December 26, 2021, in the Fichandler Stage at Arena Stage's Mead Center for American Theater, 1101 Sixth St. SW, Washington DC. For tickets and information, please call 202-488-3300 or visit www.arenastage.org.
By August Wilson