Treat: King Hedley II
Wilson’s King Hedley II, directed by Marion McClinton (Jitney),
plays more like an opera than a play. Lovely, long lyrical aria-like
discussions of past grudges, life’s injustices, abandonment and
other frustrations, and how they scar generations, hurtle the
characters toward inevitable destinies.
can’t play in the chord God ain’t wrote,” says Stool Pigeon (Stephen
McKinley Henderson), a gentle neighbor. “He wrote the beginning
and end. He let you play around with the middle.” An installment
in Wilson’s decade-by-decade history depicting African American
experience in the 20th century, King Hedley II is set in Wilson’s
hometown, Pittsburgh, in 1985, though it has little to do with
King (a name, not a title) Hedley (Brian Stokes Mitchell) is just
out of prison for murdering a man. He is named for a man he believes
to be his father, who also murdered a man. Mitchell’s wonderful
baritone voice (lately the lead in Kiss Me Kate) lends the proper
operatic feel to his impassioned monologues. Abandoned earlier
by his mother Ruby (Leslie Uggams), he now lives with her in a
rundown row house with his new wife Tonya (the excellent Viola
Davis). “Life’s got its own rhythm. It don’t always match up with
your rhythm,” Ruby tells the pregnant Tonya.
Visitors to their home are Hedley’s associate partner in his future
planned video store and current scam, Mister (Monte Russell),
and Ruby’s ex-boyfriend and con artist, Elmore (Charles Brown),
who plans to marry her and also is inexplicably determined to
tell Hedley his true parentage.
Much is made of the seeds Hedley plants to get something to grow
out of the old dirt, but he learns nothing from these symbols
of new life. Speaking of his murder he says: “The next one ain’t
gonna cost me nothing.” Two guns and a bloody machete also figure
into the plot, foretelling the play’s tragic ending.
King Hedley II is a lesser Wilson play. But is rewarding both
for its powerful images and sympathetic showcase for people only
he depicts on stage.
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