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A CurtainUp PhiladelphiaReview
King Hedley II
As August Wilson's play is well covered in reviews in several other cities (see links below) , this review will briefly discuss the Philadelphia Theatre Company production and entertain just a few thoughts on the play. King Hedley II is shorter than it used to be. The play is now somewhat shorter and with one intermission.
King (Brian Anthony Wilson) is: caught in a tangle of petty crime, under money pressure from his friend, Mister (Bryan Hicks), pining for a deceased love, dealing with the re-appearance of his mother, and anticipating fatherhood. King is also under the pressure of his forbears and his name, a revelation of his own paternity, and the vicissitudes of fate. Ruby, his mother (Lynda Gravatt) and Tonya (Sandra Daley) fear he'll end up in jail. Still, King yearns to make his mark. He plants seeds in the dirt. He hopes his wife won't abort their child. He has plans to open a legitimate little business with his friend. Brian Anthony Wilson fits comfortably into the role of King. Stool Pigeon, the neighbor who talks like a crazy reverend and saves newspapers because he wants people to know "what went on" is possessed, like a Flannery O'Connor character. He's played with high energy and some great routines by Johnnie Hobbs, Jr. And the dangerous con man, Elmore, who re-enters their lives, is played with style by Al White.
The set evoking the Pittsburgh Hill District in the 80's is well planned and executed by set designer Yael Pardess and lighting designer Michael Gilliam. It is an ambitious design that artistically combines buildings, lights, fences and vistas, it is detailed, evocative, and obviously done by perfectionists. The director, Seret Scott, and designers are the same team who brought us Seven Guitars at PTC in 1997.
A great play, which this undoubtedly is, with tradition behind it and wonderful use of language --especially its inventive conversations-- deserves more care with small moments and little character-revealing actions. For example, stage business for the women is thin and stagy and there isn't time for some important actions to be fully realized, like King's care and barbed wire-protecting of his garden. And while acting virtuosity is displayed by all in these fine roles, a real, observable communication between actors is rarely present. The acting is slick and professional but sometimes comes off as something of a recitation. An exception is Sandra Daley in the role of Tonya, who always emotes and connects, whether delivering her hallmark speech or just sitting on the sidelines. Another is Hobbs as Stool Pigeon, a person so crazy that normal human relations are not expected.
The ending is a touching tableau, a pieta, in a district where life is cheap and in a play where fate hangs heavy. King Hedley II feels like a classic; however, the direction and acting need to come down to earth, with less consciousness of the play's importance. Nevertheless this isn't only an important play, it is a very enjoyable one as well.
LINKS TO OTHER KING HEDLEY II REVIEWS
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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