PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — At a jitney station on Wylie Avenue, a young August Wilson, yellow pad and No. 2 pencil in hand, recorded the rhythms and rich language of his Hill District neighbors – a poetry of the streets.
“August Wilson grew up right across the street from me in the 1600-block of Bedford Avenue,” Mike Williams said.
While Williams played ball with Wilson’s brother, the future playwright would follow them, taking notes.
“I never knew as a kid, you know, that it was gonna play out the way that it did, but he’s done some wonderful things,” he said. “He’s done some wonderful things.”
“The work itself is so strong, sometimes I think it has a life force of its own,” Andrea Frye said.
This week, Frye joins an impressive cast of actors from stage, screen, and television – Antonio Fargas, Anthony Chisolm, Stephen McKinley Henderson, David Conrad and members of the theater’s new ensemble – to present scenes from each of August Wilson’s 10 plays.
The Century Cycle as its known focuses on the African-American experience in every decade of the 20th century.
Steve Henderson will soon record “The Piano Lesson” for the BBC, but, for him any Wilson play is a labor of love.
“I got a chance to sit in the Crawford Grill with August and to have a salmon croquette breakfast at Eddie’s Restaurant that he sets the ‘Two Trains,’ you know,” he said.
Wilson, who died in 2005, is already regarded as one of the master playwrights on the last century, not only for his masterpieces, but for the opportunities he brought actors of color like Anthony Chisholm.
“How often does a guy who looks like me get a chance to be on Broadway – which I’ve been in three of his plays on Broadway,” he said.
“What is he?” asks actor David Conrad. “He’s a conjurer of literary magic.”
But even with all August Wilson’s awards and worldwide recognition, there are still people in his hometown who don’t know his work.
“I think because he wrote about African-Americans in a city that I think marginalizes that community,” Conway said.
But once audiences get a taste of his plays, “Jitney,” “Fences,” or “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone,” they’ll know a genius was born here.
Theater-goers can sample August Wilson’s incredible journey on the stage of the August Wilson Center this Thursday through Saturday.