“The Piano Lesson” at Seattle Repertory Theatre

August Wilson’s decade-by-decade exploration of the African American condition in the twentieth century, “The Pittsburgh Cycle,” is one of this nation’s theatrical treasures. Its “The Piano Lesson” thrusts the audience into the 1930s, where in a Pittsburgh home bother and sister battle over the best use of their family legacy—a richly carved piano. Wilson weaves a spellbinding story, but his genius is not only in its plot. It’s evident also in the lyrical language through which he spins out his tale.


Stephen Tyrone Williams and Erika LaVonn in The Piano Lesson. Photo: Michael Davis, Syracuse Stage.

In “The Piano Lesson” the brother, Boy Willie has come up from the South to sell the piano that is his and his sister’s joint inheritance. His reason is solid. Land has come up for sale. His half of the proceeds from the piano will give him just enough money to buy the sliver of property that he expects will allow him to become a farmer rather than a share cropper, to be a man of dignity rather than little more than a serf.

Sister Berniece in whose home the piano sits refuses to sell it. Its rich carvings depict the family history. Its rich patina was created with the actual blood and sweat of their mother and other ancestors. It was entrusted to their care so that future generations of the family remember and honor the tragedy and trials of the past.

As the play continues the audience is forced to consider the question of whether this family can ever totally overcome its history, a question that our entire nation struggles with to this day.

This superb production directed by Timothy Bond, is presented in association with Syracuse Stage. There’s not a weak member in the cast. Expect to see haunting performances by Stephen Tyrone Williams as Boy Willie and Erika LaVonn as Berniece. But also expect the supporting players to be remarkable. Lymon, Boy Willie’s sidekick, as played by Yaegel T. Welch is totally captivating when he’s speaking, but then when he’s in the background, he’s outstanding—never hogging the scene but so important within it.

Despite it’s serious subject, there’s lots of humor in this play. And G. Valmont Thomas as Wining Boy inhabits his role as piano player/schemer/funny guy with utter command. He’s a great foil for the excellent Derrick Lee Weeden, as Doaker, the other uncle in the piece.

The Seattle Rep/Syracuse Stage production of this Pulitzer Prize winning play should not be missed.

Through Feb. 8 at Seattle Repertory Theatre, Seattle Center, 155 Mercer St., Seattle (206-443-2222 or www. seattlerep.org).

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