Friday, January 26, 2024

August Wilson's How I Learned What I Learned: ★ ★ ★ ★


When we last saw this terrific one-man show, it wasn't so terrific. A show with only one actor depends on that actor, and on that particular night in 2019 Steven Anthony Jones fumbled his lines and gave a disjointed performance. We closed our review by saying we couldn't wait to see the show again when the production would be smoother.

That moment has arrived. Theatreworks' 2024 production of "August Wilson's How I Learned What I Learned" feels flawless. Originally performed in 2003 by Wilson himself, two years before he died, Jones has crawled into August Wilson's body. Every word feels as gruff and honest as Wilson himself, and although we wish the author would have included a few vignettes about a few of his plays, with which we are already so familiar, the personal details about being Black in America hit as hard as they did when Wilson wrote them. 

Perhaps this blending of actor and author has a lot to do with the direction of Tim Bond, who was a friend of August Wilson.  Steven Anthony Jones, for years the Artistic Director of the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, along with Bond, make us laugh at all times, even when describing the travails of a black kid in The Hill District of Pittsburgh. 

If you want to tell your own story, it never hurts to be as grand a writer as August Wilson. You get to be the hero and your ideals are noble, even when they boil down to "Being a young man, I desired female companionship." Jones, Bond and the production of Giovanna Sardelli insure that we never stop rooting for our hero. 

Special shout-outs to Nina Ball's scenic design, crucial for a one-man show, and the sound and projections of Rasean Davonté Johnson. 

That section about John Coltrane -- Goose-bumps. Magnificent.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division is pleased to grant FOUR STARS to "August Wilson's "How I Learned What I Learned." Stephen Anthony Jones is five years older than when we last saw him do this role. He knows it in and out now. Thank you for a memorable night of theatre.


"August Wilson's How I Learned What I Learned"

Mountain View Center for Performing Arts

500 Castro Street, Mountain View

Through Feb. 3, 2024


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