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A Theater First: Cygnet Pairs Two August Wilson Plays

Actors Yolanda Franklin and Laurence Brown give a preview of

Credit: Courtesy of Cygnet Theatre

Above: Actors Yolanda Franklin and Laurence Brown give a preview of "King Hedley II" at a Cygnet Theatre community breakfast.

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Cygnet Theatre is doing something that's never been done in American theater: staging two plays by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson in repertoire.

Wilson wrote 10 plays, all set in Pittsburgh and all set in different decades in the 20th century. But each one illuminates the very specific issues within African-American communities.

Before his death in 2005, Wilson insisted that these plays be directed by African-American directors and feature African-American actors.

And under the direction of Jennifer L. Nelson, Cygnet is putting on "Seven Guitars," which takes place in the 1940s, together with "King Hedley II," a show set in the 1980s that features the same characters from "Seven Guitars."

"The pairing of these two plays has never been done before," Nelson said at a recent community breakfast. "I've read them all, and I've directed eight of them, but it never occurred to me that these were partners."

Nelson also referred to Wilson as an "American Shakespeare" for the poetry of his language and for giving authentic voice to the American black experience.

The idea to put these two shows together came from Cygnet Artistic Director and founder Sean Murray, who has the ultimate goal of staging all 10 Wilson plays at his theater.

"Wilson writes about the human condition, and how the choices we make affect the people we're with," he said. "Like Shakespeare, it takes a good 10 to 15 minutes to get fully immersed in his world, but once you do, you lose yourself in it."

On KPBS Midday, Nelson and actor Laurence Brown spoke about both shows and what it's been like to stage them together.

"Seven Guitars" and "King Hedley II" run through Nov. 6. Find tickets and additional details here.

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