Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

Jitney
American Stage
Review by William S. Oser | Season Schedule

Also see Bill's review of My Funny Valentine


Adrian Roberts and Mujahid Abdul-Rashid
Photo by Chad Jacobs
The presentation of all ten of August Wilson's Century Cycle plays at American Stage nears the end with Jitney—only Joe Turner's Come and Gone remains. Jitney was the first written and produced, and it remains one of the strongest. Set in 1977, the main themes are how urban renewal affects African Americans of that era and, of course, race relations in general. Last year's Radio Golf is sort of a mirror piece as its protagonists are planning an urban renewal project two decades later. I saw Jitney four years ago at Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, and I am finding that twice (at least) is a good number of times to see any August Wilson play, as they reveal more and more the deeper you dig.

This production is excellent, quite possibly the best presentation of an August Wilson play I have seen by this company. I am quite sure that much of the credit needs to go to director L. Peter Callender, whose credits as actor and director, mostly in San Francisco, are very impressive. Several of the leading actors have been regulars in the American Stage/August Wilson productions and do some of their finest work here. This is especially true of Kim Sullivan in the catalyst role of Turnbo. The previous production of Jitney presented this character as a wound-up spring from the get go (possible PTSD?). Mr. Sullivan's Turnbo is mellower, with a strong temper and anger issues, but subtler. Ron Bobb-Semple in the role of alcoholic Fielding (a role he also played in the previous production) is fine, a little less flamboyant in the drunk scenes.

ranney is the chameleon of these productions; he changes his hairstyle and facial hair to completely inhabit the many characters he has played. A few years ago he played the mentally challenged Hambone in Two Trains Running and here plays Doub, one of the jitney drivers. ranney has won two consecutive Outstanding Feature Actor Awards from Theatre Tampa Bay, an honor he richly deserves. Mujahid Abdul Rashid plays Becker, owner of the jitney company and father figure, in a nuanced performance. Satchel Andre is the youngest driver, Youngblood, with Jazmine Pierce as Youngblood's girlfriend and mother to his child. Adrian Roberts plays Booster, Becker's estranged son. The role is unevenly written, and some parts do not seem dramatically truthful, but the heart of the role, a confrontation scene with Becker, brings forth Roberts' best work. Aaron Washington and Josh Goff play two somewhat thankless roles.

Scenic design by Scott Cooper is richly detailed: hunks of the period linoleum missing, the furniture long past its best, the atmosphere in general decay. Costumes by Frank Chavez are effective. Turnbo has different jackets, ties, and other accessories as days roll by. All the men's hats are dramatically telling, some stylish, some from long ago. Lighting by Joseph P. Oshry properly sets tone and mood.

I can't help noting that there is excitement in the air surrounding American Stage. Both of the productions I have seen this season have been vibrant and exciting in ways this company did not always achieve. I hope this is due to effective leadership by new Producing Artistic Director Stephanie Gularte, because I am again excited to attend this company's productions. Jitney represents them at their absolute best.

Jitney at American Stage Theatre Company, through February 21, 2016, 163 Third Street North, St. Petersburg. For more information, visit www.americanstage.org.

Cast (in order of appearance):
Youngblood: Satchel Andre
Turnbo: Kim Sullivan*
Fielding: Ron Bobb-Semple*
Doub: "ranny"*
Shealy: Aaron Washington
Philmore: Josh Groff
Becker: Mujahid Abdul-Rashid*
Rena: Jazmine Pierce
Booster: Adrian Roberts*
*=Member of Actor's Equity Association

Direction: L. Peter Callender
Scenic Design: Scott Cooper
Lighting Design: Joseph P. Oshry#
Costume Design: Frank Chavez
Property Master: Jerid Fox
Production Stage Manager: Rachel Harrison*
#=Member of the United Scenic Artists union


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