Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
King Hedley II
King Hedley II represents the 1980s in Wilson's 10-play cycle of African-American life throughout the 20th century, set in the Pittsburgh neighborhood where nine of the 10 plays take place. The Hill District is facing rough economic times in 1985, when King Hedley II (Bowman Wright), just out of prison, is determined to build a successful new life. (Hedley's repeated efforts to plant seeds in a patch of dirt rising out of broken concrete are perhaps a little obvious in their symbolism.)
Hedley wants to open a video store with his friend Mister (KenYatta Rogers) and, to raise the necessary cash, is attempting to sell refrigerators sight unseen. He also has difficult relationships with his girlfriend Tonya (Jessica Frances Dukes) and his mother Ruby (E. Faye Butler), who is distracted by the arrival of an old lover (Michael Anthony Williams).
This play is not an easy introduction to Wilson's work, with its heavy reliance on references to other parts of the cycle. Much of the plot surrounding Hedley, Ruby, and neighborhood mystic Stool Pigeon (André De Shields) refers to events that occurred almost 40 years earlier as depicted in an earlier play, Seven Guitars, and an important offstage characterAunt Ester, presented as the literal soul of the neighborhoodis the central figure in the later Gem of the Ocean.
Wright gives a powerful performance, but Butler and De Shields stand out as they convey the weariness and gravitas of their characters' long, exhausting lives.
As directed by Timothy Douglas, no one ever leaves Tony Cisek's bleak in-the-round set of concrete slabs and piled-up newspapers; actors who don't appear in one scene sit off to the side, watching as the action unfolds. The deliberately paced play runs three hours and sometimes drags, but the language and imagery are worth the effort for Wilson devotees.