The Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s production of August Wilson’s How I Learned What I Learned at the Seattle Rep is a striking one-man show from the moment the Rep’s spacious yet intimate space darkens. It’s then that performer Steven Anthony Jones, in the role of playwright and poet August Wilson himself, walks through the aisle under a spotlight and up the stairs to the stage. On the stage are clusters of grass and stones, a street light, a desk with a glass of water, two chairs, and a formation of brick wall set pieces. On the foremost wall, white serifed letters are projected, reading “How I Learned What I Learned (And How What I Learned Has Led Me To Places I’ve Wanted to Go. That I Have Sometimes Gone Unwillingly is the Crucible in Which Many a Work of Art Has Been Fired).”
Jones, as Wilson, finishes his ascent and stands beneath the words projected on the bricks. He stands still in the silence before he begins speaking, his voice sounding through the theater with the strength and conviction of a storyteller with something to say. From these first moments, How I Learned What I Learned makes it clear that it is not simply an extended monologue; it’s a back-and-forth between performer, script, and audience, in which Jones brings the intricacies of Wilson’s writing to the theater, and the audience responds with rapt attention.
Steven Anthony Jones in August Wilson’s How I Learned What I Learned at Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Photo by Jenny Graham.