“Our stories encompass life. That means there’s humor all over the place. You could do a story about a funeral. The humor will come through, ‘cause there’s just a fine-line between drama and comedy.” — Harvey Williams, KC Theater Artist
The story of Seven Guitars by August Wilson, playing at MET through March 10, opens post funeral. Canewell (Theodore “Priest” Hughes), Red Carter (Robert Coppage III), Vera (Shawna Peña-Downing), Louise (Sherri Roulette-Mosley), and Hedley (Granvile O’Neal) gather in the chicken-feather covered yard of the Pittsburg home where they commune to share ideas, faith, fun, and memory.
As signified by the use of feathers, ascension is central to the narrative. Spiritual flight, economic increase, surging passion, and dream proliferation.
Vera has been scorned, abandoned by her lover for another woman. Floyd “Schoolboy” Barton (Keenan Ramos) ran off to Chicago to pursue music on the arms of a woman that “believed in him”, but, post a tour in prison, returns for Vera when he wants to bring his two loves – music and his woman – together to realize his dreams. He believes she is the key to ascension. She has moved on.
With every rise, comes a fall.
August Wilson is regarded as a contemporary Shakespeare with his epic tragedies and his way of using character to personify poetry. Seven Guitars stands as a totem to his body of work exploring themes of spirituality, financial responsibility, death, love, and oppression-induced greed with humor and harmony.
A full-house of Wilson fans puts a ton of pressure on the artists to get it right. And they do.
Ramos carries with grace and authenticity the struggle of masculinity in a social and judicial climate that excludes Black men from manhood. He raises a sturdy mirror to his reflection and mate, Vera, who is expertly played by shining-star, Peña-Downing who understands the power of quiet and stillness as she balances strength and traditional concepts of femininity.
The loveable nature of Roulette-Mosley allows for humorous rests from the weightiness around the pending danger seemingly just around the corner, foreshadowed by the sacrifice of the very chickens that symbolize soaring.
The men, in their suits and suspenders, represent changes, chases, and chances. “Priest” is riveting in his natural, down-to-earth Canewell, the actor and character with no seams between them. Coppage III delights with his ability to take his Red Carter from boyish innocence to puffed-up flirt in an instant. Their affections overlap for the showy Ruby (Alexis L. Dupree), who flounces in, exploding the dynamic of friendship with lustful dynamite.
The true success is O’Neal as he brings Hedley to life, the limping, Caribbean elder with his mind corroded by desire and miscarriage of dreams. Like the failed Marcus Garvey he alludes to, Hedley is obsessed with making his father proud, to living up to his unreachable expectations. Like the others in various stages, Hedley is the end result of a life of aspirations destroyed by anti-Blackness. In his faithful portrayal of such a heartbreaking characteristic, O’Neal is caught burnishing the stage while simultaneously using it as a honing crucible for his craft.
Set, sound, and light all beautifully and quirkily build the 1940s kind-of country, kind-of city Pittsburg. The only blemish on the production is the men’s shoes. They don’t feel genuine to the era. Otherwise, this is the perfect production to introduce theatergoers to the newly inherited space at the historical Warwick Theater at 3929 Main, and usher in a season that raises the North American premiere of beloved Stephen King tome, Shawshank Redemption, April 4 through 21.
Seven Guitars with MET
The Historical Warwick Theater
Granvile O’Neal, Shawna Peña-Downing, Keenan Ramos, Sherri Roulette-Mosley, Theodore “Priest” Hughes, Robert Coppage III, and Alexis L. Dupree
Producing Artistic Director