“The Piano Lesson”
Who: Syracuse Stage
Where: 820 E Genesee St, Syracuse, NY
When: Oct. 22 – Nov. 9
Preview by Anya Jaremko-Greenwold
Pulitzer-prize winning play “The Piano Lesson” runs from Oct. 22-Nov. 9 at the Syracuse Stage. Written by the late August Wilson, this production is the fourth in Wilson’s Century Cycle, a collection of 10 total plays documenting the African-American struggle, each detailing a different 20th century decade.
The play pits brother and sister against each other. Bernice loves her piano, an heirloom with carved figures of their ancestors who endured slavery; but when Boy Willie arrives and tries to sell the piano to buy the land his family worked on, domestic tensions escalate. And not everything occurs in the realm of the living; the ghost of the piano’s original owner shows up, too.
Timothy Bond, director of “The Piano Lesson,” is in his eighth season at Syracuse Stage, and has now directed seven of Wilson’s ten plays.
“I think it’s one of the great American plays written in the last 50 years,” said Bond. “The symbology of the piano and its connections to the ancestors of the family and the legacy of slavery is one of the most powerful images created on an American stage. The music that comes out of that piano as the actors play it, the singing that the men do, the food that is cooked, the sense of humor that pours out of the characters, is all just so life-affirming and exciting. The language of the play is like music, so gorgeous and poetic. Those things make me feel lucky every day to be directing this.”
Syracuse Stage’s cast includes many actors known for their work on Wilson’s plays, who are by now quite familiar with his canon. These include Erika LaVonn as Bernice, G. Stephen Tyrone Williams as Boy Willie, Valmont Thomas as Wining, and Marcea Bond as Maretha.
“We at Syracuse Stage have made a commitment to complete the entire cycle of Wilson’s 20th century plays,” said Bond proudly. “We’re one of the premiere theaters in the country who know how to do his plays well, who have a deep, long-term commitment to exploring his works. I knew August personally and spent a lot of time with him. So I think we have some special insights into how to tell these stories. “
“The Piano Lesson” is also topical, especially considering recent events in Ferguson.
“The play is very timely, because of a number of issues going on in race relations in the country right now, around black men and the police,” said Bond. “It touches on things people have been picking up on in the media.”
The play is also appropriately October-themed: “It’s a ghost story, and it’s right around Halloween!” said Bond. “So it’s the perfect time to get those chills and thrills. It’s just a great family drama that really talks about America.”
Opening night performance is Friday, Oct. 24, at 8 p.m. Tickets and more information are available at http://www.syracusestage.org, by calling 315-443-3275, or in person at the Syracuse Stage Box Office, Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.