A holiday cab

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Jitney Photo credit: Joan Marcus.

I’m guessing the last thing you need is another “to do” on your holiday list…but I want you to add one more.

You need to go see “Jitney” at the Mark Taper Forum.

This is director Ruben Santiago Hudson’s revival that won the Tony Award last year and it’s outstanding.

It’s easy to forget just how rich the worlds that August Wilson wrote are.

“Jitney” is the 1970’s play in August Wilson’s “Pittsburgh Cycle.” We’re in a gypsy cab station and things are changing. The neighborhood is being boarded up for new housing that never seems to get built. Somewhere in the background the Vietnam war is returning young, changed men… that echo and recognize those who returned from Korea before them. The air is thick with history: local, personal and complicated.

On the wall a pay phone is constantly wringing - either carrying our ensemble or drivers out into the community to grab a quick fare or bringing news from the outside world into our world.

Adding import, as if that wasn’t enough, tomorrow’s the day that Becker’s boy gets out of the penitentiary after serving 20 years. Becker’s the big man who runs the jitney station. He’s the glue holding this world together. He’s the one everyone will listen to and follow. But Becker’s been done with his son for a long time - some betrayals cut deep.

You could think of “Jitney” as a father and son play and it certainly is.

But what will strike you is this a complex play about an entire world.

In most plays, you’re lucky if you get a strong central idea with reasonably fleshed out characters surrounding it. With “Jitney” you’ll feel yourself slipping into the neighborhood. You’ll find yourself intrigued or infuriated by every character. Even the bit players have complexity and depth. They bring with them entire personal histories that speak to a richness of experience.

This ensemble of actors support Mr. Wilson’s words and bring a personal poetry to each performance. You’ll be keenly aware of what passes between the hands of these men whether it’s money or a bottle of booze or even a punch. This is a world defined by the simple human gesture - for good or ill.

You’ll find yourself weighing the complicated moral calculus that Wilson poses to us. You’ll ask yourself: who’s really honorable? Who can be forgiven? And is the only irredeemable sin committed by the guy who can’t stay out of everyone’s business?

Most importantly, you’ll lose yourself in a play in the best way.

I know a gypsy cab play set in the 1970’s doesn’t sound like the perfect holiday outing - but if you love a good story, if you want to think and feel and consider the weight of the truth and what honor really means - it’s great theatre.

Don’t miss this one - we don’t get productions this good of plays this complex often enough.

“Jitney” plays at the Mark Taper Forum downtown through December 29th.

For info on the show and to subscribe to the weekly KCRW theatre newsletter, check out: kcrw.com/theatre.

Credits

Host:
Anthony Byrnes