JITNEY: An Ensemble Cast in the Driver’s Seat

by Paul Recupero

Damien J. Wallace, Darryl A. Bell and Andre N. Jones in a scene from The Stagecrafters’ production of JITNEY, running in Chestnut Hill (Philadelphia, PA through December 9. (Photo credit: Sara Stewart)

Like many of his other well-known plays, August Wilson’s award-winning drama JITNEY centers around the lives of several African-Americans in Pittsburgh during the late 1970s.  These men work as jitney drivers at Becker’s, an unlicensed taxi business located downtown, and it’s here that their individual stories converge.

JITNEY throws the audience into the middle of what appears to be a typical day at the car service.  Becker (Darryl A. Bell) is the amenable owner who’s no-nonsense when it comes to business.  Turnbo’s (Damien J. Wallace) love for gossip gets him into hot water.  Youngblood (Roderick Slocum) concerns himself with planning his future.  “Recovering” alcoholic Fielding (Maurice Tucker) always carries a bottle, notwithstanding Becker’s strict rule against drinking on the job.  Doub (Andre N. Jones) prides himself on being the practical voice of reason among the group.

In the course of the friendly banter that opens the show, several plots emerge.  The city intends to close down the entire block, which would leave Becker’s car service homeless.  Also significant is the sudden return of Becker’s estranged son Booster (Kash Goins), who served twenty years in the state penitentiary for killing a former lover under hotly-contested circumstances.  Meanwhile, Youngblood and his girl Rena (Tiffany Barrett) bicker about the best way to raise their family.

Kash Goins and Maurice Tucker are members of the cast of JITNEY at The Stagecrafters. (Photo credit: Sara Stewart)

This simple synopsis of JITNEY’s plot does little justice to the feel of the play.  August Wilson’s poignant dialogue offers a air of authenticity throughout the entire piece, and the ensemble cast director Marilyn Yoblick has assembled for The Stagecrafters’ rendition effectively carries the audience along a sharp roller coaster of emotions.  The cast’s dynamic chemistry and the show’s tight pacing is the clear result of a thoroughly-rehearsed production.  Each actor has crafted a distinct character who plays off the others believably, whether it be a moment of comedy or drama.  Of particular note is Wallace as Turnbo, who shines especially well at both.

While there are plenty of laughs, there’s a hearty dose of tension as well.  The smart script and the solid acting meet head-on in the hostile confrontation between father and son that ends the first act, in which the men viciously attempt to defend their past actions and lay blame for transient tragedies at each other’s feet.  Both Bell and Goins really shine here and had the audience at the edge of their seats.  The second act drags a bit in comparison, which is more reflection of the exciting intensity that preceded it.

The other production elements are solid.  Special mention goes to the intricacy of the car service set (designed and decorated by Scott Killinger and Mark Grayson, respectively).  The pay phone against the side wall is an unnamed character, as its persistent ringing propels the plot forward.  The irony of these men being constantly called upon to drive others around while their own lives remain stagnant is not lost in the Stagecrafters’ production.

JITNEY is an excellent example of how ensemble theatre should be done and is strongly recommended fare for those already needing a break from this year’s holiday circus.

by August Wilson
Directed by: Marilyn Yoblick
Nov. 23 – Dec. 9, 2012
The Stagecrafters Theater
8130 Germantown Ave
Philadelphia PA 19118
(215) 247-9913

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