August Wilson’s Seven Guitars, played at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. on Saturday, December 4th, to a sold-out matinee audience. The newly renovated venue provided perfect seating of the entire stage. Set in 1940s Pittsburgh. The play is about the struggle of African American men seeking and demanding dignity while learning self-awareness and self-worth.
The play opens in the yard outside Vera’s house just after the funeral of Floyd “Schoolboy” Barton in the Hill District of Pittsburgh (Hill, The Hill), in 1948. Floyd, a talented blues guitarist who was just about to sign a recording deal in Chicago was killed in an altercation with a friend of his. His friends— former girlfriend Vera, her neighbor Louise, Hedley, a Caribbean immigrant street vendor with extreme political beliefs; and Canewell and Red Carter, members of Floyd’s band—sit and talk in remembrance of Floyd’s last days. The cast members were veteran actors and each of their performance was memorable. The play was lengthy, almost to the point of boredom. It was hard for me to follow. I’d never seen or read the play, but there were times during the play that my attention span was short.
At times the audience was disturbed by the ringing of someone’s mobile phone and pleas by the ushers to silence the device. At one point in the play, one of the actors interrupts his own performance and looks in the direction of where the mobile phone rings, reminding the mesmerized audience of the real world.
After the intermission, the play opens to with Hedley is grilling chickens in the yard the next day. Turning back to the play, Canewell, a harmonica player has agreed to join Floyd’s band, but is reluctant about going to Chicago. He has serious doubts that Floyd would be treated fairly as a recording artist. Upon sharing his concerns with Floyd, an angered Floyd walks off. He returns looking for Canewell but finds Hedley burying a bag of money instead. At this point I focused more on this act and the performance kept my attention thereafter.
I struggled to keep my focus on the play. I felt like it was a play I had to attend because I had never seen a play of August Wilson’s works performed. I felt like I owed it to him somehow to support Black theatre and Black performers. And I do.
At intermission of the play, many in attendance spoke highly of the play, but one guest did admit that “He (August Wilson)’s plays tend to be rather long. I don’t know if I’ll stay the whole way through this one,” she said. There are many more twists and turns throughout the play and Seven Guitars is certainly worth reviewing. I tend to think that Mr. Wilson wrote the play with either and elderly neighbor or relative in mind or in the environment in which he was familiar. August Wilson used the appropriate vernacular to follow”. compliment the era in which the play is set. Another attendee commented, “I like his plays, and what I like most about his work is that his plays are easy to follow”. I did not let on to her that I was in sharp disagreement about the play being easy to follow. Overall, my summation of this play was mediocre.
Seven Guitars is directed by Tazewell Thompson and runs at the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. from December 4th through December 26th. For more information on ticket prices, please contact the Arena Stage at 202-554-9066 or www.arenastage.org//.