Monday, October 1, 2007

Theater: Jitney

August Wilson's production takes us on a emotional ride through a blue-collar black community

Full disclosure: Heather Ireland was one of my closest friends in high school. One of the stars of August Wilson’s “Jitney,” currently playing at Pegasus Players, she is the only female actor in the ensemble production. I’ll admit that I haven’t seen one of her performances in almost 10 years, so I had no idea what to expect during this production about a jitney car service set in a blue-collar African-American community in Pittsburgh.

The show is actually centered on the lives of her seven male castmates, who work or hang out in the gypsy cab station. It’s 1977, most of the workers have beef with one another, and now they’ve found out that the office is being forced to shut down to make way for new development. Despite all of their differences (one is a functioning alcoholic; another is the office bully; and the youngest is a Vietnam vet trying hard to get his family out of the projects), they form a bond to take a stand against the shutdown.

At times, the show is explosive—which is to be expected when there’s that much testosterone in a tiny office—but when some of the hothead workers bump heads, their boss always puts them back in line with what he calls “Becker’s Rules.” It’s a signature move for the award-winning author August Wilson, whose plays are usually based on his own experiences growing up in the rough side of Pittsburgh. Many of his works, such as “Two Trains Running,” “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone” and “Fences,” explore the volatile relationships black men have with each other as well as the white establishment. They’re gritty, real and littered with profanity.

The veteran actors, particularly Ray Baker as troublemaker “Turnbo,” Alfred H. Wilson as boss “Becker” and M.K. Quaintance as Becker’s ex-convict son “Booster,” lit up the stage and managed to have me on the edge of my seat until the final scene. And Ireland’s portrayal as “Rena,” the soft-spoken yet no-nonsense girlfriend and “baby momma” of Taj McCord (“Youngblood”) aptly dispels the myth that single black mothers in inner-city settings are undereducated and unmotivated. Ireland’s Rena comes across as a woman filled with dignity and commands the respect of even this hard-edged collection of men.

“Jitney” runs through Oct. 28 at Pegasus Players, 1145 W. Wilson Ave., in the O'Rourke Center at Truman College. – Audarshia Townsend

Curtain Times: Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00 p.m.
Sunday matinees at 3:00 p.m.
Tickets: Preview tickets, $15; Thursday and Friday, $17; Saturday and Sunday, $25. Senior and student discounts are available.
Box Office: (773) 878-9761
For more information and tickets,

Taj McCord and Heather Ireland in "Jitney."