Monday, September 7, 2015

Actors Theatre of Louisville Kicks Off in High Gear with Seven Guitars

     When I saw that Actors Theatre of Louisville (ATL) was producing August Wilson’s Seven Guitars (1996) as the opener for this season, I knew it would be worth seeing.  ATL has astonished us last season with Tarell Alvin McCraney’s The Brothers Size (2009) and a couple of years before that with Kristoffer Diaz’s The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity (2008).  In both cases, the shows required and received great ensemble casts made up of actors of color.  Because of its international reputation, ALT can pull in top veteran stage actors and younger performers that may become stars.

The Male Cast Members of Seven Guitars*
     The Seven Guitars production directed by Colman Domingo (nominated in the past for major theatrical awards) almost as if he were conducting musicians playing a concerto is definitive.  William Boles’ back porch and yard set was so realistically detailed that we moved seats during the intermission so that we could see into the house, though none of the action takes place indoors.  Kathy A. Perkins’ lighting was both natural and possessed by the supernatural elements of the play.  Christian Frederickson’s subtle sound design percolated in such a way that it felt like the characters’ unconscious musings.  Neil wasn’t sure about the slacks that Louise wore, but women were wearing pants by the 1940s and Kara Harmon has provided an extensive wardrobe that requires lightning quick changes by the seven actors that I didn’t even notice.

Sharon Washington, Bowman Wright
and Joniece Abbott-Pratt*
     The reason for first emphasizing the designers was because they have collaborated on a naturalistic, you-are-there look to a production that felt otherworldly and became more so as the show progressed.  Wilson wrote with almost microscopic specificity about African Americans living in Pittsburgh’s Hill District during the 20th century.  However, while their concerns may seem singular, our friend Paul identified strongly with the milieu and the dialogue and he is Caucasian so the work speaks because it is universal.  Those conversations simultaneously bubbled with hilarity and simmered with resentment.  Certain subjects were expressed, dropped, and then taken up again before evaporating or exploding.  The play seemed realistic, but it moved in a looser way that recalled Chekhov.

The Realistic Pittsburgh Set Design
Sharon Washington as Louise*
     The cast was exemplary; I can’t think of other actors that would have been better.  Special kudos go to Sharon Washington as Louise, especially in her second act soliloquy that was hilarious in its drop-dead attitude and to Harold Surratt as King Hedley because he limned a simple man who became mythic.  I wish there was a little more music in the play since J. Alphonse Nicholson as the musician protagonist Floyd was more than up to playing it.  Otherwise, except for a couple of props that Neil and Paul weren’t certain were of the period, this was flawless.

*Photos by Bill Brymer for ATL

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