If you need a break from sine, cosine, and tangent, or if your eyes are crossing from reading too many textbooks, Seattle Repertory Theatre offers a differnt kind of lesson: The Piano Lesson by August Wilson. It’s a fun play dealing with family and friends, tiffs and fights, legacy and stories, and spirits and ghosts.
The story, written by August Wilson, is about an African American family trying to hold on to their stories and history. The basic plot: a dispute between siblings. Berniece wants to save an heirloom upright piano for sentimental value, but her brother, Boy Willie, who is more concerned with practicality, is determined to sell the piano and buy a piece of land where their father worked as a slave.
The play, directed by Timothy Bond, is generally well cast and incredibly well acted. Erika LaVonn as Berniece is especially talented as she completely becomes her character. She plays Berniece with a full range of emotions and keeps from acting over-the-top or playing to the audience. With all the talented actors, it was easy to be carried into the story.
The scenic designer, William Bloodgood, does a fabulous job with the stage. The set, complete with the carved wooden piano, easily transports the audience to a home in Pittsburg in 1936. And the music, composed by Michael G. Keck enhances the mood of the scenes. Instrumental music fills in the short transitions between scenes, and characters play fun and energetic songs on the antique piano or sing a cappella. And the period costumes, designed by Helen Q. Huang, vary greatly, from light denim overalls to a green silk suit with a purple shirt guaranteed to have the girls flocking to its wearer.
One criticism is that Maretha, Berniece’s daughter, is supposed to be eleven years old but seems much younger in her mannerisms and speech. She acts more like a six-year-old, even though she is played by 13-year-old Shiann Welch. This could be due to the script, the directing, the acting, or a combination of these. Other than this, though, all the acting was believable.
Also, it is a little tricky to figure out how everyone in the family is connected and to completely understand the history of the piano, but this in no way kept me from enjoying the play. The play has a perfect balance of humor and seriousness — it is entertaining, suspenseful, thought-provoking, and memorable. The ghost in the play (I won’t tell more than that to keep from spoiling it!) is exciting and even funny at times.
This enjoyable show is a three hours well spent! My advice: Go see it!
The Piano Lesson
Seattle Repertory Theatre
January 16 - Feburary 8