King Hedley II | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

King Hedley II 

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KING HEDLEY II, Goodman Theatre. August Wilson's latest drama contains passages of eloquent beauty--grand, operatic monologues in which the characters share painful or rapturous reminiscences about love and violence in lives twisted by a seemingly endless cycle of criminality and fatherlessness. And Wilson's vivid writing is exquisitely delivered by a magnificent ensemble--Leslie Uggams, Richard Brooks, Charles Brown, Lou Myers, Monte Russell, and Yvette Ganier--portraying an extended network of friends and family in Pittsburgh's Hill District in 1985. Under Marion Isaac McClinton's direction, this superb sextet deliver their soliloquies with great sensitivity to color, rhythm, and structure.

Yet King Hedley II remains oddly unmoving--these vivid interludes never coalesce into a convincing narrative because the story is just a vehicle for these poetic set pieces. The long anticipated violent climax (when four characters are packing pistols, somebody's gotta die) comes off as movie-of-the-week melodrama. And the play's sociopolitical trappings--references to Reaganomics and drive-by shootings--seem designed merely to shoehorn the script into a remaining slot in Wilson's planned decade-by-decade cycle dramatizing 20th-century African-American life.

It's still well worth seeing work by a writer as attuned to language as Wilson is, especially in such a brilliantly acted production. But compared to his Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Joe Turner's Come and Gone, and Seven Guitars, this play is a disappointment.

--Albert Williams

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