Thought provoking, expertly crafted, elegantly appointed, full of drama and rich with humor describes THE PIANO LESSON at The Players Club of Swarthmore. From the first entrance the audience is captivated. Set in an apartment in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1932, THE PIANO LESSON is a slice-of-life look at family dynamics, family history, loss, fear, superstition, friendship, love, financial frustration, and racial tension. This is a deftly constructed script by the master playwright August Wilson. Each actor brings an abundance of talent, clear intentions, truth, and passion to the play. While there is never an actual piano lesson, there are many lessons taught, and some learned while siblings battle over the sentiment verses material worth of a family heirloom piano.
Damien J. Wallace plays Doaker, the leveling force and man of the household, who is uncle to feuding siblings Berniece (Erin Stewart) and Boy Willie (Kash Goins). Wallace gives Doaker empathy, wisdom, logic, and objectivity. Moving through his home and kitchen portraying all of the comfort one exhibits in a home space, Wallace is expert, enjoyable and entertaining. Withering looks, bold speeches, and matriarchal deportment all make Stewart’s Berniece a woman of strength, dedication, integrity, hard work, and superstition. Stewart is elegant, truthful, and strong in her portrayal. Stewart is equal to the task of a cast dominated by testosterone. Goins works the room with his charismatic, charming, conniving, calculating, cash-strapped character. Boy Willie is all energy, with an angle. Goins finds his truth, and empathy builds as the story unfolds. The single-mindedness of his character could easily slip away from an actor, but Goins keeps it real, infusing Boy Willie with so much humanity that there is never a false word, action, or reaction. It is not always easy to agree with Boy Willie, but it is simple to embrace and relish the performance of Goins. Rodd Deon is Lymon, an innocent bystander on the family front, who is involved with Boy Willie in business matters. His allegiance is tested, and then tested again. Deon makes sure to give the gift of a relaxed and comfortable performance, with the edginess to help it be understood that he knows the back story of Lymon. Humor and reaction highlight what Deon brings to stage. Lymon is a fully fleshed out character and Deon is a gifted actor who creates many dimensions and insightful depth. Tim Golden delivers Wining Boy as a singing, piano playing, self-aggrandizer with a bent for a good con, a strong drink, and a game of cards. Golden sings well and during one particularly mesmerizing scene, joins all of the men to create a musical happening. Golden offers physical humor along with his hustle. Richard Bradford is Avery, who is a preacher in search of many things. He is unassuming and unsure. Bradford captures the character well. Aria Jones and Sabrina Hall round out the cast. Hall demands attention when on stage. Jones is the youngest member of the family and quietly offers a little girl who is respectful and sweet.
THE PIANO LESSON supplies surprises, treasures to be discovered, and detailed, nuanced performances. Characters are carefully created with truth, realism, believability, and clarity. Every actor is comfortable with set, self, and story. Timelessness makes this story and these relationships as important today as when it was written over twenty years ago. Wilson explores many truths. Racial tension, and racial divide, along with family tension and family divide and the multitude of relationships and occurrences that shape it all are at the heart of the play. Though Wilson wrote about the early 20th Century during the late 20th Century he could be talking about today, right now, the early 21st Century. Set design and construction are superb and wonderfully historically accurate. Special effects are creative and convincing. The show is lengthy, with one intermission. The experience is well worth it. This is a powerful story with powerful portrayals.
THE PIANO LESSON
by August Wilson
Directed by Dave Ebersole
November 28 – December 13, 2014
The Players Club of Swarthmore
614 Fairview Avenue
Swarthmore, PA 19081