Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: St. Louis

King Hedley II
The St. Louis Black Repertory
Review by Richard T. Green

Also see Richard's recent review of Les Misérables

Geovonday Jones, Ka'ramuu Kush,
and J. Samuel Davis

Photo by Keshon Campbell
A young man claimed by two fathers must make right the sins of both elders, though it leads to a shocking climax on stage in August Wilson's King Hedley II. It's the terrific new Black Rep production at the Edison Theatre in St. Louis. First staged at the Pittsburgh Public Theater in 1999, King Hedley II opened on Broadway at the Virginia Theatre (renamed the August Wilson Theatre in 2005), where it ran for two months in 2001. It's the penultimate installment in Wilson's 10-play epic "American Century Cycle," with the final play in that series, Radio Golf, planned for next season by this iconic troupe.

It will be the second time The Black Rep has completed the gritty, funny, and artistic saga. Company founder and director Ron Himes subtly misdirects his audience with a mellifluous sense of the Pittsburgh ghetto where the characters are bonded together by love and weary hopefulness. But he regularly shifts gears, to where the pain and promise on stage twist into something new and anguishing. Wasted lives become noble, and vice-versa, for nearly three hours (with intermission) before a jaw-dropping conclusion.

Violence and death are constant warnings in this Reagan-era tale, set in 1985. But it feels as brisk, and daring of our judgment, as anything by Anton Chekhov. This cast is extremely well-balanced, led by the enthralling Ka'ramuu Kush as King Hedley II. At one moment he's deeply internal, and at the next he cracks the air with bravado. And both moments are perfectly modulated. A long vertical scar on his left cheek, the smallest of theatrical masks, exposes more than it conceals.

Shakespearian-trained J. Samuel Davis weaves a smooth, flim-flam spell as King's prodigal father figure Elmore. Late in Act Two, a pair of dice rattle in his hand like a snake's warning. And the always-surprising A.C. Smith creates a fire-and-brimstone sanctuary out of a toxic brown field as their neighbor, the bible-quoting Stool Pigeon.

It's a story of grand dreams and fatal, wounded pride, mediated by equally great women on stage who are likewise driven to extremes. Denise Thimes is lovely as Ruby, King Hedley's mother, a jilted ex-jazz singer whose career was derailed by her own self-respect. Alex Jay is loving and forceful as King's girlfriend Tonya, determined to survive a familiar cycle of death and destruction. Their shared tenement backyard is perfectly arranged by set designer Timothy Jones, with very nice lighting by Travis Richardson.

Geovonday Jones is a great comic foil for King as Mister, a delightful realist. Together they plan to open their own video rental store. But things get more complicated, from selling stolen refrigerators to robbing a jewelry store to make their dream blossom.

Just like real life, a sense of self-respect is shattered again and again in each of them. But Wilson's colorful composition and the Black Rep's perfect tonalities of character are like some vibrant Dutch still life: fresh-cut flowers, bowing over fresh new kills.

King Hedley II continues through July 14, 2024, at the Edison Theatre, on the campus of Washington University, 6465 Forsyth Blvd, St. Louis MO. For tickets and information, please visit

Stool Pigeon: A.C. Smith*
King Hedley II: Ka'ramuu Kush
Ruby: Denise Thimes
Mister: Geovonday Jones*
Tonya: Alex Jay
Elmore: J. Samuel Davis*
Understudy in the role of King Hedley II: DeJuan Christopher

Production Staff:
Director: Ron Himes**
Assistant to the Director: Jon Royal
Scenic Designer: Timothy Jones
Lighting Designer: Travis Richardson
Sound Designer: Alan Phillips
Costume Designer: Kristie Chiyere Osi
Stage Manager: Richard Agnew*
Assistant Stage Managers: Alan Phillips, Mondis Doyle
Technical Director: Christian Kitchens
Technical Director: Roger Speidel
Costume Shop Supervisor: Kristie Chiyere Osi
Props Designer: Mikhail Lynn
Scenic Artists: Kenneth Randle, Taylor Deed

* Denotes Member, Actors' Equity Association

** Denotes Member, the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers, Inc.