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A Theater First: Cygnet Pairs Two August Wilson Plays

Actors Yolanda Franklin and Laurence Brown give a preview of "King Hedley II" at a Cygnet Theatre community breakfast.
Courtesy of Cygnet Theatre
Actors Yolanda Franklin and Laurence Brown give a preview of "King Hedley II" at a Cygnet Theatre community breakfast.
A Theater First: Cygnet Pairs Two August Wilson Plays
August Wilson at Cygnet Theatre GUESTS:Laurence Brown, actor in "Seven Guitars" and "King Hedley II" Jennifer L. Nelson, director of "Seven Guitars" and "King Hedley II"

He has been held by American Shakespeare. August Wilson said the foundation of his work was poetry and the subject of this place were the African-American experience through the last century. His plays are's legacy and now the theater is doing something that's never been done before staging two of his place back to back and repertoire. Joining me is Jennifer Nelson who directed the planes. Jennifer Waugh come to the program. Thank you very much. The title role in King Henry II. Jennifer, will you begin by reminding us of the importance of August Wilson? I think he brought to the forefront some stories of regular people to the stage in a way that no one else had done. He paid attention to addressing not only the personal relationships of characters, but how communities would come together over particular issues and how different people in the community would respond to different events that happen within the community. He really gave more of a 360° picture of an African-American community than something like rising in the sun, which focuses on one family and pretty much stayed within the family story. Why are these two plays in particular pair together? There is a family continue on that happened here and where the characters -- the main character is in the womb and the other play and seven guitars. So you get to see where he came from and who his mother was and what the community was like before he was actually born and then see him as a man in the second play. In addition, the mother of that person is in both plays. As a young woman and obviously in the first one and then as a mother of a middle-aged son in the second play. So there is that connection that's very clear. Also the way we set it was using the same environment. So it is a very interesting continue on to see how not only the human characters age and develop but also how the physical environment that therein has aged, involved, and develop. You play two different characters. What is that like as an actor to learn two roles at the same time. It is lots of fun. Thereto -- they are two different characters. One is more serious and one is more fun. I get a break from the seriousness and get to go from fun to seriousness and the back to fun. We have a sound of a performance featuring Lawrence Brown and Yolanda Franklin. That's what it says on their. It is legal for all public and private. Don't do it for me. I'm telling you don't do it for me. Who also my going to do it for? Money is money. Who also my going to do it for? That's from a performance of King Henry II featuring Lawrence Brown and Yolanda Franklin. It is playing with repertoire at the theater. Lawrence, actors that play Shakespeare find connections between characters and situations than are a parent to the casual theatergoer. Have you had the same experience with these place? Fact-finding connections between the two plays on every performance. I walked backstage and I say that's where that connects. I think that sentiment is shared throughout. We were always talking about the new discoveries that were made and one capacity other. Jennifer, before his death August Wilson insisted that these place be directed by African-American directors and feature African-American actors but how important do think it is to make sure they are seen by an African-American audience? I think it is very important but I also think it is very important that they be seen by non-African-American audiences because there is so much misunderstanding about who black people in this country are and who we are and what we represent and what we want and what we need. As though we are somehow different than other citizens. Part of the point of his plays I believe is demonstrating that there is a common humanity among us in the specifics within any two communities may vary in terms of how they speak or how they need to how do they dress. Those are all really superficial issues. What counts is the common humanity that we have and our need for love and respect and for gainful employment in a place where you can breathe and relax and have fun that is a universal need of communities around the globe. So I don't think he would want to say that he wanted only African-American communities to see this. He wants us to see it to another our lives is just as important from the Shakespeare people. We are performing the same acts of humanity that they are demonstrating. The presentation of seven guitars and King finally the second will run through November 6. I was speaking to Jennifer Nelson and Lawrence Brown. Thank you both very much. Thank you.

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.

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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.

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"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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