Friday, January 18, 2019

August Wilson: "How I Learned What I Learned" ☼ ☼ ☼

There are many wonderful things about Steven Anthony Jones's solo performance of August Wilson's final play. Wilson himself performed the role first, two years before his death in 2005, and Jones channels the great author as he talks about his life as a young man growing up in the Hill District of Pittsburgh.

We particularly loved the Wilsonisms, the wry and poetic asides that pepper every August Wilson play, such as a white man approaching the author at a party to say, "I don't see color." Wilson asks the man if he said the same thing to that white man over there, or that white man over there. When the first person says, "No," Wilson asks him, "...then, if you don't see color, why did you say that to me?"

Each character taught August Wilson a valuable lesson. His mother taught him to never settle for less than he is worth. His friend Cy Morocco taught him to dream as high as he wished but be ready to perform when opportunity strikes. Perhaps the biggest laugh of the night was when the author tried to make more money from a 16-line poem by turning it into 32 lines.

Clearly, there were writers in the audience.

Jones does not try to assume the personalities nor physical attributes of each character, as a solo performer might. Instead, we never lose sight of August Wilson, the older man looking back on his youth.

It is a one-man play, and therefore it all comes down to that one man. On Opening Night Jones was personable and accessible, but he also stumbled and mumbled, forgot lines and clearly missed critical sequences. When he was good he was very good, but when he was not the show dragged to an inconclusive ending. The good thing is that this show is co-sponsored by the Lorraine Hansberry Theater and the Ubuntu Theater Project. After the run at Marin Theater Company, the show will continue in smaller venues. We shall see it again then when all the pieces should be in place.

RATINGS: ☼  ☼ ☼ 
The San Francisco Theater Blog awards "August Wilson: How I Learned What I Learned" Three Stars. We expect that the show's rating will rise as the run continues.


"August Wilson: How I Learned What I Learned"
Marin Theater Company
397 Miller Avenue, Mill Valley
Through February 3

Lorraine Hansberry Theater
762 Fulton Street, San Francisco
Feb 14-24

Ubuntu Theater Project
2020 4th Street, Berkeley
March 2019 (exact dates TBA)

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