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Foreword They Might Have Been Giants, They Certainly Were Kings By Marion McClinton After emancipation¿all those people who had been slaves, they needed the music more than ever now; it was like they were trying to find out in this music what they were supposed to do with this freedom¿it wasn¿t just white people the music had to reach to, nor even to their own people, but straight out to life, and to what a man does with his life when it finally is his. ¿Sidney Bechet, Treat It Gentle (his autobiography) Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past. ¿George Orwell, 1984 Denver picked at her fingernails. ¿If it¿s still there, waiting, that must mean that nothing ever dies.¿ Sethe looked right in Denver¿s face. ¿Nothing ever does,¿ she said. ¿Toni Morrison, Beloved First things first before it go any further. There are no new August Wilsons. There ain¿t never going to be any either. While we¿re at it there ain¿t going to be any new Lloyd Richardses or Benjamin Mordecais either. That isn¿t an opinion. Just a fact. Like two and two is going to come out to four. Don¿t matter if you are adding, multiplying, cloning, whatsoever¿two and two is four. August, Lloyd, and Ben are gone and we are not going to see their likes again. They changed forever a world that has been around since before Christians were being fed to the lions, hell, before Rome itself. I¿m talking about the world of theater. So before I introduce you to King Hedley II, I had to get that crooked thought straight between us. August Wilson and his life, his work, his passions, were the thoughts, actions and feelings of a remarkable man. He rose from the earth of his culture, set his roots firmly in good dirt, and grew, blossomed into America¿s most important playwright. No disrespect to Eugene O¿Neill, Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller, but August Wilson shook the American theater until it finally began to part its eyes and see all of its invisible men and women. He helped with a shove mightier than Samson gave the pillars in the Philistine temple, and brought down the walls of ignorance so that, if one looked, one could see, truly see, what America really looked like in truth. If you had a mind to. By focusing on the eternal journey of the misplaced African, whose story was the truest account of the American struggle towards freedom and independence, he opened up not only what American theater could be about, but also who could do the telling. I wouldn¿t be writing this introduction without that accomplishment. Hell, you wouldn¿t even know my name, notice my humanity, equate my hopes and dreams to anything having to do with your own, had it not been for August. August wrote about the extraordinary ordinary people. Ordinary folk who carried a little something, something extra in their pockets to help them get through another day. They carried their songs, shouts, dances, kisses, roll-around loving, laughter, summer smiles, drop-by-drop pain, and the blood of their ancestor¿s prayers all up inside that pocket. The women carried the hopes and dreams of a nation in their bellies. The men fought like saber-toothed tigers to hang on to more than a shred of dignity, integrity, and their grandfather¿s honor as they shouted out their great-grandfather¿s name. August knew they were extraordinary because he came from them and he was the baddest motherfucker on the block. The heavyweight champion of the world. He knew a king when he saw one. August Wilson saw one in King. King Hedley II stands out in the cycle of his plays. Some of his other plays are more popular with the critical establishment and audiences as well (who exactly these audiences are and why, we¿ll scratch on later), There are characters in his other plays that, quite frankly, people like better than King. Hell, in King¿s own play there are characters more popular than King. He¿s kind of like his namesake from Seven Guitars: King Hedley I. Some folks had a hard time with him, too. I believe one of the reasons is that neither King gives one red shit about what anybody thinks of him. Particularly the white American. They didn¿t need the white folk to put the crown on their heads, they don¿t need to hear anything white folk say, or any other damn thing about whites. They stand inside their own honor. They live by their own sacred code. Now, it might not be your code or the way you see things, but, well, King I and King II don¿t remember them folks asking their opinion about anything. So they fight and scrape out a surviving while trying to find a way to eke out a living. The people in King Hedley II also do not live in some ¿long time ago in a land far far away¿ place either. Even though it is set in the ¿80s and was first produced in Pittsburgh in 1999, the play felt just like yesterday. King, Mister, Tonya, Ruby, Stool Pigeon and Elmore could have been right outside the theater doors hustling, not to make two ends meet, but to find the two damn ends, period. They were the forgotten ones pushed back into the front of your memory. They weren¿t shuffling, they weren¿t stuttering, they weren¿t dodging responsibility for their own lives, but they knew they didn¿t get the ball on the fifty-yard line with plenty of time. They knew they got it on their own goal line, fourth and a hundred, and they couldn¿t punt. They got to go for it. They had the heart to put all of their humanity on the line and go for broke. They knew that. What they didn¿t know is, did we have the heart to hear their story? They weren¿t six characters in search of an author. They cool there. They were six characters in search of an audience. An audience willing to hear their story told their way. Sometimes it feels like they still waiting. Now, I¿m not going to quote you passages from the play. If you¿re reading this then you already have the play. In fact you have all ten of the cycle, so the best thing for me to do is shut the hell up and let you get on with it. Some of you have probably already skipped this introduction and are already getting to it. Great. I always said nobody explains August Wilson¿s work better than August Wilson. There are some who feel different, but like my mother used to say, ¿There¿s a fool for every day of the week and so it¿s better to leave the stupid lot be.¿ King¿s declaration of war on a society that refuses to acknowledge his existence and humanity; Tonya¿s fierce and sorrowful monologue that painfully, truthfully, and defiantly speaks to the heartbreak that women must hoist up in their soul and the bleeding they must carry¿the killing, the dying violence no mother should ever have to hold; Mister¿s love for his buddy King; Ruby, having lived a full life of love and adventure, trying to comprehend God¿s great mystery, the bond between mother and child; Elmore confronting death on its and his terms, honor intact, but still having to face a man he has damn near raised and telling him whose blood is really on his hands; Aunt Ester¿s death from a broken heart (that¿s enough right there to claim this play¿s place on Mount Olympus) and Stool Pigeon¿s feverishly sane attempt to bring her back¿in truth these are the things of legend. King Hedley II lifts the world of the hard-row-to-hoe people to their true warrior height and creates an All-American version of Wole Soyinka¿s Fourth Stage, with King as the Yoruba god Ogun, and America¿s power society, The Man, as the gods he must stand up tall against. All of human history is in this play: all scripture, all song, all legend, all comedy, all tragedy, resurrection, redemption and triumph is in this telling. As Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese have accomplished with their investigation of the streets and history they knew or were told, August Wilson, on a much bigger canvas, by raising the stories he knows, has not just brought into the light the story of a people; he has brought into God¿s own shining light the tale of a nation and all its people. Although I do agree with Stool Pigeon when he says that God is a bad motherfucker, I know that God agrees with me when I say that August Wilson is a bad motherfucker, too. I hope my dearest friend is now sopping up biscuits in heavenly gravy with God and St. Peter. Swapping stories and telling lies. And so it goes¿ King Hedley II premiered at the Pittsburgh Public Theater in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on December 11, 1999, in association with Sageworks, in a co-production by the Pittsburgh Public Theater (Edward Gilbert, Artistic Director; Stephen Klein, Managing Director) and Seattle Repertory Theatre (Sharon Ott, Artistic Director; Benjamin Moore, Managing Director). The production subsequently opened at Seattle Repertory Theatre, in Seattle, Washington, on March 13, 2000. The director was Marion Isaac McClinton, the set design was by David Gallo, the costumes by Toni-Leslie James, the lights by Donald Holder and the sound by Rob Milburn. The production stage manager was Diane DiVita. The cast was as follows: King Hedley II Tony Todd Ruby Marlene Warfield Mister Russell Andrews Elmore Charles Brown Tonya Ella Joyce Stool Pigeon Mel Winkler The same production of King Hedley II opened at Huntington Theatre Company (Peter Altman, Producing Director; Michael Maso, Managing Director) in Boston, Massachusetts, on May 24, 2000, with the same artistic team and cast, except for the following changes: original music was composed by Max Roach and the production stage manager was Glynn David Turner. The production then opened at Mark Taper Forum (Gordon Davidson, Artistic Director; Charles Dillingham, Managing Director) in Los Angeles, California, on September 5, with the same artistic team, except for the following changes: the production stage manager was Tami Toon. The cast was as follows: King Hedley II Harry Lennix; Jerome Butler (October 17-22) Ruby Juanita Jennings Mister Monté Russell Elmore Charles Brown Tonya Moné Walton Stool Pigeon Lou Myers The production then opened at The Goodman Theatre (Robert Falls, Artistic Director; Roche Schuler, Executive Director) in Chicago, Illinois, on December 11, 2000, with the same artistic team, except for the following changes: the production stage manager was Diane DiVita. The cast was as follows: King Hedley II Richard Brooks Ruby Leslie Uggams Mister Monté Russell Elmore Charles Brown Tonya Yvette Ganier Stool Pigeon Lou Myers King Hedley II opened at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington DC, on February 25, 2001, with the same artistic team. It was produced by Sageworks, Benjamin Mordecai, Jujamcyn Theatres, and Manhattan Theatre Club in association with Kardana-Swinsky Productions. The cast was as follows: King Hedley II Brian Stokes Mitchell Ruby Leslie Uggams Mister Monté Russell Elmore Charles Brown Tonya Viola Davis Stool Pigeon Stephen McKinley Henderson King Hedley II then transferred to Broadway at the Virginia Theatre on May 1, 2001, with the same artistic team and cast. It was produced by Sageworks, Benjamin Mordecai, Jujamcyn Theaters, 52nd Street Productions, Spring Sirkin, Peggy Hill and Manhattan Theatre Club in association with Kardana-Swinsky Productions. Characters King (King Hedley II) Has a vicious scar running down the left side of his face. Spent seven years in prison. Strives to live by his own moral code. Thirties. Ruby King's mother, former big band singer who recently moved back to Pittsburgh. Sixties. Mister King's best friend since grade school and sometimes business partner. Thirties. Elmore Ruby's longtime, but sporadic flame. A professional hustler. Sixties. Tonya King's wife of a few years. Thirties. Stool Pigeon King's next-door neighbor. The Hill's spiritual and practical truthsayer. Late sixties. Setting Pittsburgh, the Hill District, 1985. The setting is the backyards of a row of three houses. One of the houses is missing and the vacant lot provides access to the rear of the house where Ruby lives with King and Tonya. Three or four steps empty out of the house. A fence separates the yard from the house next door. Stool Pigeon lives in the house on the opposite side of the vacant lot. Buildings across the street in the front of the house are visible through the vacant lot and an old advertisement for Alaga Syrup featuring a faded portrait of Willie Mays is painted on one of the buildings.
Library of Congress Subject Headings for this publication:
African American men -- Drama.
Pittsburgh (Pa.) -- Drama.
Ex-convicts -- Drama.
Historical drama. gsafd.