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Retro Ride: The Journey Of August Wilson’s “Jitney”

The Nation’s Capital was transported to Pittsburgh in 1977 when August Wilson’s “Jitney” took audiences on a ride of emotions, laughter and thought-provoking dialogue during its run at the Arena Stage.

The “Jitney” program

This two hour and 15-minute production with a 15-minute intermission moved swiftly telling the story of an eclectic cast of characters on working and passing through of a gypsy cab business in Steel City’s predominantly black Hill District.

Directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson, “Jitney” effectively handles the intersection of characters like the hard-working, polished patriarch of the unlicensed cab company Becker (Steven Anthony Jones); the hot-head, finding his way newlywed and father Youngblood (James T. Alfred); the sensible, no-nonsense, wisdom dropping Doub (Keith Randolph Smith); the uber-nosy, always gossiping, naggingly negative Turnbo (Ray Anthony Thomas); the alcoholic comic relief with a heart of gold Fielding (Anthony Chisholm); the nattily dressed neighborhood numbers runner Shealy (Harvy Blanks); and the fresh-out-of-prison son of Becker, Booster (Francois Battiste).

The set of “Jitney”

The lives of these men and the stories they tell captivate, crack you up and cause you to gasp. This 2017 Tony Award winner for Best Revival of a Play tells a story from the 70’s and the period references, authentic fashions by costumer Toni-Leslie James and devices like the company’s rotary phone help capture that place in time even for those not born in that era.

The one-set production is well presented in the effective staging of David Gallo’s designed set, which included nuanced details that capture the wear and tear on a bustling business set in this time, in addition to the car in the background and the painted Hill District backdrop.

The cast of “Jitney” takes their final bow

The stage’s lighting precious for moving the story along and capturing the various hues of these brothers is impeccably done by Jane Cox. The play also features an exceptional musical mix of Jazz, Blues, Soul and Rock interludes scored by Bill Sims, Jr.

Despite being set almost 40-years ago, “Jitney” tackles topics African Americans continue to face like neighborhood gentrification; false accusations of crimes against white women; inability to find work after serving prison time; and challenges with home ownership.

“Jitney” juxtapositions seriousness and satire masterfully and Santiago-Hudson has shaped this production so that it takes you on ride you’ll never forget.

Becker (Steven Anthony Jones) and Booster (Francois Battiste) have a tense scene in “Jitney”

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