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Foreword By Romulus Linney When I first met August Wilson, I told him I liked Joe Turner the best of his plays. He nodded and said he did, too. Joe Turner does not have the uproarious humor of Ma Rainey or the buried power of Fences or the perfect shape of The Piano Lesson. What it does have is theatrical beauty. That is something hard to find, let alone create, since a play is constant, demanding action. But in Joe Turner it quietly appears. Almost unnoticed, it is the heart of the play. Seth Holly¿s boardinghouse seems at first to be a rather dull place. Very little happens. When Herald Loomis appears with his daughter, Zonia, he is central to the action, but something else has been slowly growing on us, the hallmark of an August Wilson play. Here it is the hardscrabble quality of life in a 1911 Pittsburgh Hill District boardinghouse. Its people must be busy and are hard put, so be it, but they insist on their leisure. Time is taken not only to bargain, argue, gossip and disagree, but also to wonder, imagine and sing. In one glorious moment, they create nothing less than the foundation of music, without instruments. One character drums out a beat on a wooden table while others clap hands, shuffle and stomp, with primitive joy and sophisticated skill. Of course Joe Turner is a searing stage experience. August Wilson is a master of the drama. His devotion to the terrible realities of African Americans in the twentieth century is absolute, and is never neglected. Herald Loomis and his mysterious search interrupt the music and take us over again. But sometimes, in personal relations that are casual and pleasant but seem little more, under banter and humor, a quiet delight begins to rise and fall, with delicacy and wisdom. A deeper pleasure than stage conflict emerges. Yes, Herald Loomis¿s search for his wife, and the final freedom he finds in his own bones and blood, drive this amazing play. But for me, that is not its greatest achievement. Its greatest achievement is the most difficult thing to do in any play, novel, poem, painting, symphony, or any such endeavor. A creator expressing love in art is treacherous business. Love is easy to overdo. It can be well-meaning but amateurish. It must be disciplined by honesty and truth. Here a great writer shows us how it is done. He sets excitement aside. His characters and his audiences live for awhile in that calm, unpretentious affection that we, poor humans, at our best, can have for one another. This is not thrilling action. It is life at its most beautiful. I like to think that is what he meant by his play he liked the best. For my daughter, Sakina Ansari, with love and gratitude for her understanding Characters Seth Holly owner of the boardinghouse Bertha Holly his wife Bynum Walker a rootworker Rutherford Selig a peddler Jeremy Furlow a resident Herald Loomis a resident Zonia Loomis his daughter Mattie Campbell a resident Reuben Scott boy who lives next door Molly Cunningham a resident Martha Loomis Herald Loomis's wife Joe Turner's Come and Gone was initially presented as a staged reading at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center's 1984 National Playwrights Conference. Joe Turner's Come and Gone opened on April 29, 1986 at the Yale Repertory Theatre, Lloyd Richards, Artistic Director, Benjamin Mordecai, Managing Director, in New Haven, Connecticut, With the following cast: Seth Holly Mel Winkler Bertha Holly L. Scott Caldwell Bynum Walker Ed Hall Rutherford Selig Raynor Scheine Jeremy Furlow Bo Rucker Herald Loomis Charles S. Dutton Zonia Loomis Cristal Coleman and LaJara Henderson at alternate performances Mattie Campbell Kimberleigh Burroughs Reuben Mercer Casey Lydell Badger and LaMar James Fedrick at alternate performances Molly Cunningham Kimberly Scott Martha Pentecost Angela Bassett Director: Lloyd Richards Set Design: Scott Bradley Costume Design: Pamela Peterson Lighting Design: Michael Gianitti Musical Direction: Dwight Andrews Sound Design: Matthew Wiener Production Stage Manager: Margaret Adair Stage Manager: Ethan Ruber Casting: Meg Simon/Fran Kumin The Yale Repertory Theatre production of Joe Turner's Come and Gone opened on October 2, 1987 at the Arena Stage, Zelda Fichandler, Producing Director, William Stewart, Managing Director, Douglas C. Wager, Associate Producing Director, in Washington, D.C., with the following cast: Seth Holly Mel Winkler Bertha Holly L. Scott Caldwell Bynum Walker Ed Hall Rutherford Selig Raynor Scheine Jeremy Furlow Bo Rucker Herald Loomis Delroy Lindo Zonia Loomis Kippen Hay and Kellie S. Williams at alternate performances Mattie Campbell Kimberleigh Aarn Reuben Mercer LaFontaine Oliver and Vincent Prevost at alternate performances Molly Cunningham Kimberly Scott Martha Pentecost Angela Bassett Director: Lloyd Richards Set Design: Scott Bradley Costume Design: Pamela Peterson Lighting Design: Michael Gianitti Musical Direction: Dwight Andrews Stage Manager: Karen L. Carpenter Casting Consultants: Meg Simon/Fran Kumin Joe Turner's Come and Gone opened on March 26, 1988, at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on Broadway in New York City, with the following cast: Seth Holly Mel Winkler Bertha Holly L. Scott Caldwell Bynum Walker Ed Hall Rutherford Selig Raynor Scheine Jeremy Furlow Bo Rucker Herald Loomis Delroy Lindo Zonia Loomis Jamila Perry Mattie Campbell Kimberleigh Aarn Reuben Mercer Richard Parnell Habersham Molly Cunningham Kimberly Scott Martha Pentecost Angela Bassett Director: Lloyd Richards Set Design: Scott Bradley Costume Design: Pamela Peterson Lighting Design: Michael Gianitti Musical Direction: Dwight Andrews Production Stage Manager: Karen L. Carpenter Stage Manager: Elliott Woodruff Casting Consultants: Meg Simon/Fran Kumin Setting August, 1911. A boardinghouse in Pittsburgh. At right is a kitchen. Two doors open off the kitchen. One leads to the outhouse and Seth's workshop. The other to Seth's and Bertha's bedroom. At left is a parlor. The front door opens into the parlor, which gives access to the stairs leading to the upstairs rooms. There is a small outside playing area. The Play It is August in Pittsburgh, 1911. The sun falls out of heaven like a stone. The fires of the steel mill rage with a combined sense of industry and progress. Barges loaded with coal and iron ore trudge up the river to the mill towns that dot the Monongahela and return with fresh, hard, gleaming steel. The city flexes its muscles. Men throw countless bridges across the rivers, lay roads and carve tunnels through the hills sprouting with houses. From the deep and the near South the sons and daughters of newly freed African slaves wander into the city. Isolated, cut off from memory, having forgotten the names of the gods and only guessing at their faces, they arrive dazed and stunned, their heart kicking in their chest with a song worth singing. They arrive carrying Bibles and guitars, their pockets lined with dust and fresh hope, marked men and women seeking to scrape from the narrow, crooked cobbles and the fiery blasts of the coke furnace a way of bludgeoning and shaping the malleable parts of themselves into a new identity as free men of definite and sincere worth. Foreigners in a strange land, they carry as part and parcel of their baggage a long line of separation and dispersement which informs their sensibilities and marks their conduct as they search for ways to reconnect, to reassemble, to give clear and luminous meaning to the song which is both a wail and a whelp of joy.
Library of Congress Subject Headings for this publication:
African Americans -- Drama.
Nineteen tens -- Drama.
Boardinghouses -- Drama.
Pittsburgh (Pa.) -- Drama.
Historical drama. gsafd.