Jitney By August Wilson
Directed by Anthony B. Major
Starring Stephen M. Jefferson, Joe Reed, Andrew J. R. Tarver, and Michael Sapp
Seminole State College, Lake Mary, FL
Fashions come and go, and in the field of city planning, the 1970’s saw a fury of “Urban Renewal.” Basically this involved demolishing the bad part of town and replacing it with modern high rise slums, or better yet an eight lane Interstate. Pittsburgh saw its share of that destruction, and Becker’s Car Service stood square in the firing line. As the bulldozers rumble to life, Mr. Becker (Jefferson) keeps his drivers in line and lectures his jail bird son Booster (Tarver) about what’s right and wrong. Youngblood (Sapp) works two jobs to buy a house and provide for his girlfriend (Shellita M. Boxie) and infant son, and Shealy (Kevin Rushing) drops in to use the phone for his numbers racket. The usual cast of August Wilson-esque charters fill in the story – Turnbo (Reed) meddles and gossips, Doub (Paris Crayton III) dispenses sage advice, and while Fielding (Dwayne Allen) doesn’t struggle with alcohol, he does lend it a helping hand at every turn.
I loved the set with its filthy windows and classic colored asbestos type floor, but I found the direction wandering around the neighborhood in this study of character and class. The fussy Turnbo and the slick dressed-for-Harlem highlife Fielding were always entertaining and on top of the material, and Youngblood and his girl friend Rena painted a tender and promising romance. Booster had a smoldering anger but his father Becker stumbled over lines here and there, and I suspect there were some missed cues in this production.
Unlike many of Wilson’s pieces, the issue of black/white interaction never surfaces. Someone tells Young blood “White people don’t even know you’re alive” and not even the city and the urban improvers seem very menacing. The story focuses more on the internal tensions between these men, all of whom at least hustle well enough to afford a few niceties. The principle question raised in “Jitney” runs to “Are you entitled to kill someone because they tell a lie about you?” The facile answer should be “no” but Wilson raises the point that it might actually be better to hang for a crime you committed than go to prison for something you didn’t do. Even with the rough edges on this show, there’s a heart and soul here and both are worth the visit.
For more information on the Seminole State College Theater program, please visit http://www.scc-fl.edu/arts/theatre/