August Wilson’s Jitney
Friday, September 15 – September 25
Shows on Friday and Saturday 8pm
Sunday matinee 2 pm
The eighth play in August Wilson’s Pittsburgh Cycle is set in a gypsy cab station in 1977. Regular taxi cabs will not travel to the Pittsburgh Hill District of the 1970s, and so the residents turn to jitneys—unofficial, unlicensed taxi cabs—that operate in the community. This play portrays the lives of the jitney drivers at the station owned by Jim Becker.
We are rapidly introduced to the regulars of the station: recently returned Vietnam veteran Darnell (called Youngblood by the other drivers) who is attempting to build a new life for himself and his family, solid, easy-going Korean War veteran Doub, gossipy hothead Turnbo, alcoholic Fielding and flamboyant numbers runner Shealy, who is not a driver but who used the station’s phone as his base of operations. Conflict arises when Turnbo insinuates himself into Youngblood’s love life, telling Youngblood’s girlfriend Rena that he has been seen around town with her sister when he should have been at home with their young son. Despite his protestations of innocence, she accuses Youngblood, who has been acting secretly and has taken money needed for groceries to pay a vague “debt”, of cheating on her, which he has done in the past. Youngblood attacks Turnbo for causing trouble and Turnbo pulls a gun on him, threatening to shoot him, but station boss Becker intervenes.
Becker’s son, Clarence (nicknamed Booster) is released early from Prison after serving 20 years for the murder of his college girlfriend, who had falsely accused him of rape. Becker has not visited him in prison once during that span, furious that he sacrificed his life to provide for Booster’s future only for him to throw it away on needless revenge. Booster comes to the station anxious to reconcile with his father, but Becker refused to listen to him, furiously blaming him for his mother’s death, who died of grief after Booster was sentenced to death. Angry recriminations are thrown on either side and Becker disowns his son.
News arrives that the building housing the station is to be condemned by the city and the drivers resolve to fight the eviction. Youngblood admits to Rena that his secretive behavior has been because he has been saving up to buy a house, which her sister was helping him with as a surprise. Rena admonishes him for not his deception but acknowledges that he has changed, and they reconcile.
Tragedy strikes unexpectedly when Becker, who has taken a shift at the steel mill he used to work at, is killed in an industrial accident. Booster breaks down in agony on hearing his father is dead, but at the end of the play appears ready to take his place as the head of the Jitney station.
This version of Jitney is directed by Leslie Scott-Jones. The cast of characters includes Jim Becker played by Clinton Johnston, the well-respected manager of the jitney station. Fielding a driver, played by Derick Williams is an alcoholic, formerly a tailor who clothed Billy Eckstine and Count Basie. Turnbo played by Ike Anderson, notorious for being a gossip. YoungBlood played by David Vaughn Straughn, is a Vietnam Vet recently returned home to his girlfriend and two year old son. Rena played by Tiff Ames is YoungBlood’s girlfriend and the mother of his young son, Jesse. Shealy played by Damani Harrison is a flamboyant bookie who uses the jitney station as the basis of his operations. Philmore played by Wes Bellamy is a local Hotel doorman and a frequent jitney passenger. Booster played by Eric Jones, Becker’s son, who has just completed a 20 year prison sentence for murder.