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AUGUST WILSON 1945 - 2005

The plays of the cycle

Wilson said he wanted to show African American culture "in all its richness and fullness." The plays, written over nearly a quarter of a century, are listed in order of the year in which they are set.

October 03, 2005|Don Shirley

Gem of the Ocean (Set in 1904)

Premiere: Goodman Theatre, Chicago, April 2003

Plot: A young man seeks an old seer's counsel about a violent incident, while a former Underground Railroad guide frets over his sister and a black constable tries to enforce the white man's law.


Joe Turner's Come and Gone (1911)

Premiere: Yale Repertory Theatre, New Haven, Conn., May 1986

Plot: A mysterious man in search of his wife, accompanied by his young daughter, arrives at a boarding house where a neighbor tries to help him rediscover his identity.


Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (1927)

Premiere: Yale Repertory Theatre, April 1984

Plot: In a Chicago recording studio, Ma Rainey and her band -- exploited by the white-run music industry -- fall into strife among themselves.


The Piano Lesson (1936)

Premiere: Yale Repertory Theatre, November 1987

Plot: Boy Willie, a sharecropper from the South, wants to sell his family's ancestral piano. His Pittsburgh sister Berniece insists on keeping it, because the piano has the carved faces of their great-grandfather's wife and daughter, who were sold in exchange for the piano during the days of slavery.


Seven Guitars (1948)

Premiere: Goodman Theatre, Chicago, January 1995

Plot: A group of neighbors in the backyard of a tenement house returns from a funeral, and the play flashes back to the final week of the young singer-songwriter who died.


Fences (1957)

Premiere: Yale Repertory Theatre, May 1985

Plot: A former Negro League baseball player who was born too soon to make the transition to the major leagues now collects garbage and nurses grudges against his athletic 17-year-old son.


Two Trains Running (1969)

Premiere: Yale Repertory Theatre, March 1990

Plot: A group of regulars hangs out at a cafe that might be condemned -- or might be bought by the nearby mortuary owner. Romance blossoms between an ex-con and a waitress.


Jitney (1977)

Premiere: Allegheny Repertory Theatre, Pittsburgh, 1982

Plot: The owner of an unlicensed cab business faces the threat that his building will be demolished, while his son -- out of prison after 20 years -- seeks a reconciliation.


King Hedley II (1985)

Premiere: Pittsburgh Public Theatre, December 1999

Plot: The title character, just out of jail, is saving money to open a video store but instead becomes a bank robber.


Radio Golf (1997)

Premiere: Yale Repertory Theatre, April 2005

Plot: While Aunt Ester's house is scheduled for demolition, Harmond wants to teach kids how to play golf -- and wants to be Pittsburgh's first black mayor. His partner helps a white radio investor take advantage of minority ownership tax breaks.


Reported by Don Shirley

Los Angeles Times

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