Museum Month And August Wilson’s ‘The Piano Lesson’ At Cygnet Theatre
Friday, January 29, 2010
KPBS arts producer and Culture Lust blogger Angela Carone talks with Morning Edition's Dwane Brown and Pamela Davis about local theater and some deals for museum-going in February.
DWANE BROWN: There's some compelling theater coming to San Diego stages this weekend and here to tell us about it is KPBS arts producer Angela Carone. But first, she wants to tell us about a special running the month of February. Angela, what's this special?
ANGELA CARONE: Well, Dwane, February is museum month in San Diego which is organized by the San Diego Museum council, which means that all month long, you can get half-price admission at 39 museums in San Diego, including the museum of art, the contemporary art museum, Birch Aquarium, the midway, and more.
To take advantage of this you have to get a pass, and you can pick one up at any Macy's store in San Diego – and that pass can be used all month long for half price admission for you and three guests at these museums – so it's great if you have family visiting. They'll be a link to the list of museums on my Culture Lust blog.
PAMELA DAVIS: Ok. Cygnet Theatre in Old Town is kicking off their 2010 season with the play The Piano Lesson, by August Wilson. Why are you recommending this play…
ANGELA CARONE: There are so many reasons. August Wilson was by most accounts the greatest African-American playwright of the 20th century. His legacy is a series of 10 plays known as The Pittsburgh Cycle. Each play set in a different decade and they all tell stories of the black experience in America. Most of them are set in a neighborhood of Pittsburgh called The Hill District. Wilson won two Pulitzer Prizes for his work, one for this play "The Piano Lesson" and the other for a play Cygnet produced in 2008, called Fences.
DWANE BROWN: Remind us what is The Piano Lesson about?
ANGELA CARONE: It's the fourth play in the cycle, set in 1936, and it's about a brother and sister who are fighting over the fate of a piano, which has become a family heirloom because it represents the slavery of their ancestors…– there are images of their enslaved family members carved into the piano.
The brother wants to sell the piano so he can purchase land and become a farmer and the sister wants to hold on to it because it represents this tragic family history. So it's a play about understanding and coming to terms with history, and moving forward, and also honoring your ancestors.
DWANE BROWN: So this is the second Wilson play that Cygnet has done. Did you see their production of Fences?
ANGELA CARONE: Yes, I did and it was terrific. A lot of the same artists who worked on Fences are back for The Piano Lesson, including the director Delicia Turner Sonnenberg and Antonio TJ Johnson, who played Troy, the lead character in Fences. With Fences, Cygnet harnassed a lot of local talent, and it sounds like their doing the same with The Piano Lesson – that talent matched with Wilson's beautiful play – should make for a compelling evening of theater. And I shouldn't make it sound like Wilson's plays are so earnest they are without humor – there's actually a lot of humor in his plays.
DWANE BROWN: The other play you want to talk about is in San Diego for only one night, so people should act quickly in getting tickets?
ANGELA CARONE: Yes, it's at the La Jolla Playhouse this Saturday night - and it's called No Child – It's a one-woman show starring Nilaja Sun who wrote the play based on her experiences teaching in a New York City high School. The title No Child, refers to No Child Left Behind and the play itself set in a Bronx high school.
PAMELA DAVIS: What's Sun's take on the high school experience?
ANGELA CARONE: She takes a humorous path to pointing out the inequities in the public school system. The thing to remember here is that this is one of those tour de force performances, Sun plays 16 different characters, the teachers, the adminstrators, a slew of students – all of different ethnicities. She even plays a custodial worker.
And there are even scenes where the students are talking to each other and Sun is quickly changing accents and speech patterns to bring it all to life. She does all this on a minimal set – with only a few props – and just sheer physicality – she has to capture all of the pent up adolescent energy and false bravado. I read an interview with Sun who said looks to the spirit of Charlie Chaplin to make all this happen – which gives you a sense of the physical comedy she relies on in the play.
PAMELA DAVIS: You can see more of Angela's recommendations for the weekend on her Culture Lust blog on kpbs.org.