By Reporters of Youth Journalism International
NEW HAVEN, Connecticut, U.S.A. – Carved into an heirloom piano is the history of a family that no longer agrees it’s worth keeping.
The Yale Repertory Theater’s new production of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play “The Piano Lesson,” which premiered at the same theater in 1987, offers August Wilson’s dramatic take on sibling rivalry in a Depression-era African American family to which people today can still easily relate.
Offering a realistic representation of life in Pittsburgh in 1936, the play features a clash between a brother who wants to sell the piano and his sister who’s determined to keep it. Their conflict is at the heart of the play.
The brother, Boy Willy (Leroy McCalin) wants to sell off the beautifully carved piano made by great grandfather to show the family’s early history under slavery – a piano that cost his own father his life when he had to steal it in order to maintain it as a family possession.
Boy Willy wants to use the money from selling it to buy the land that his forebears once farmed for white masters.
But his sister, Berniece (Eisa David), wants to pass it to her daughter, Maretha (Malenky Welsh).
While we’re not going to tell the ending, rest assured it is supernaturally intriguing.
While the play is long – more than three hours – it is well worth the time invested. Though the early part is a little dull, the work definitely picks up steam.
In a rush of beautiful language, it captures African American culture in the early 20th Century. It’s the words that give the play its power.
“Once you surrender to the language,” Wilson “will give you as much energy as you need,” said McClain, who did a fantastic job portraying Boy Willy.
“If you just go with it, it really takes you where you need to go,” McClain said.
Another actor who did exceptionally well was Keith Randolph Smith, who played Doaker, the siblings’ uncle.
Doaker’s role in the play was to keep the family together, even though they were being divided.
The set captured the era flawlessly. The use of lighting was especially noteworthy, including the flickering, flashing finale.
Smith said after the play that he saw the original version in 1987.
He said today’s production is “pretty much the same” as the acclaimed original. ‘It’s not much different to me,” Smith said.
The play runs through Feb. 19. Tickets range from $10 to $85 and are available online at www.yalerep.org, by phone at (203) 432-1234, and in person at the Yale Rep Box Office at 1120 Chapel Street in New Haven. Student, senior, and group rates are also available.
Contributing to this review were Reporter Mary Majerus-Collins, Reporter Luke Pearson, Senior Reporter Kiernan Majerus-Collins and Reporter Yelena Samofalova.
Here’s a video from the Yale Repertory Theater to give viewers a taste of what to expect: