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Pittsburgh Playwrights sticks to original cycle with August Wilson's 'Jitney'

| Wednesday, May 5, 2010

When Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company debuted in 2003, its first production was August Wilson's "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom."

It also was the start of a mission for the company's founder and producing artistic director Mark Clayton Southers.

"When we started the company, we wanted to do a unique cycle," Southers says.

The plan was to produce all of the plays in what eventually became August Wilson's 10-play decade-by-decade chronicle of the black experience in 20th-century America.

Rather than produce them in the order in which they were written or by going chronologically through the decades, Southers decided to do them in the order in which they were produced in New York City.

Saturday evening, the company will open "Jitney," the first play Wilson wrote in the series and the seventh to be produced by Pittsburgh Playwrights.

"Jitney" had its Manhattan debut off-Broadway at Second Stage Theatre in April 2000 and later transferred to the Union Square Theatre, also off-Broadway.

A handful of theaters across the country have done all 10 Wilson plays, but Southers believes his is the only theater in the country that's doing them in this unique sequence.

"When we are done with the cycle, we will be the only theater company to do them in successive season, year after year in a row," Southers says. "There's a legion of patrons who have seen every production. It's a lot of fun because they feel like they are part of a collection or a team.

When Wilson wrote "Jitney" in 1979, it was his first play in what would become a 10-play cycle.

Set in the 1970s in Pittsburgh's Hill District, "Jitney" revolves around the rocky relationship between Becker, who operates a jitney cab service and his son, Booster, who has just been released from prison.

The jitney service operates out of a dilapidated building that's scheduled for demolition in the name of urban renewal. It also serves as the gathering place for the drivers and local residents who pass the time swapping tales, offering their observations and trying to earn a little money.

"These are men who had lives. ... I always find a connection in this play because Becker works in a steel mill and it reminds me how dangerous it is and how freak accidents happen," says Southers, who is directing the production. "It is going to touch everyone in the audience because there are so many stories going on."

Additional Information:


Produced by: Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company

When: Saturday through May 30 with performances at 8 p.m. Thursdays, Saturdays and May 21 and 28 and at 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays

Admission: $22.50 in advance, $27.50 at the door and $35 for opening night, this Saturday

Where: Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre, mezzanine, 542 Penn Ave., Downtown

Details: 412-412-394-3353 or website

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