In the working class Hill District of Pittsburgh in 1948, a group of weary friends return home from the funeral of their friend, aspiring blues musician Floyd “ Schoolboy” Barton. They cry, laugh, play some music and toast to their friend who was obviously cut down before realizing his potential. The rest of the play tells the story of how they got there in “Seven Guitars”, August Wilson’s fifth in his ten-play American Century Cycle that explores the African-American experience in each decade of the 20th century. Set in the city where Wilson grew up with an aspirational Chicago looming large as a city of dreams, where a black man from the south can go make music and a life for himself.
But daily life in the south for African-Americans at that time was brutal, where the deck is always stacked against them and danger lurks behind every corner. When we re-join the seven characters in the recent past, they come together in their common backyard to commiserate, share their dreams and disappointments, their joy and sorrow. There is singing, dancing, gentle ribbing, compassion and laughter. But there is a sadness and struggle under everything they do.
Floyd has just been released from a 90 day jail sentence for “vagrancy” or, as he describes it, a misunderstanding. He’s got a hit record on the radio, for which he was only paid a flat fee. Now he’s back to convince his estranged girlfriend to give him one last chance and join him in Chicago where a music producer has asked him to come and record some new songs. What stands in his way is a lack of funds to retrieve his guitar from the pawn shop.
Desean K. Terry plays Floyd with a vulnerability that belies a rage simmering just below the surface. It’s a powerful performance that drives the story forward by the sheer will of his hope and ambition. Terry and Cherish Monique Duke bring the chemistry to this couple who seem destined to be together. Duke plays Vera with a sultry sweetness which gives the couple that irresistible opposites attract energy. Veralyn Jones gives the savvy and garrulous neighbor Louise a depth of a hard life lived. She provides an earned sense of calm and resignation but also gets some great laughs as the aunty who knows everyone’s business. DeJuan Christopher brings considerable charm and warmth as Floyd’s best friend and harmonica player while Amir Abdullah is endearing as the slick drummer Red Carter. Sydney A. Mason brings the heat and beauty as Louise’s pregnant niece and the formidable Kevin Jackson plays Louise’s tenant, the addled, TB suffering Hedley with tremendous realism and pathos.
Gregg T. Daniel directs this stellar cast in a way that is intimate, bold and authentic. These seven people are trying to survive and thrive in this difficult environment and yet, amid the daily struggle, there is the human need for hope. Hope for a better life, hope for success, fulfillment and happiness through music, community, and love. At its core, “Seven Guitars” is a mystery; who killed Floyd Barton? But in a world where every word or action can be misinterpreted, where your next word could be your last and the game is rigged, did he ever have a chance?
Seven Guitars runs through November 14, 2021. Single ticket prices start at $25 and are available at anoisewithin.org, by phone at 626-356-3121, and at the box office located at 3352 East Foothill Blvd in Pasadena, CA. Please visit ANoiseWithin.org/CovidSafety/ for all current safety measures. I would like to add that ANW is doing a stellar job with their safety protocols. The process is smooth and I felt safe. Please support your local theatres.