Tag Archives: August Wilson

Wilson’s ‘King Hedley II’ very much in yo’ face at Two River Theater

With Two River Theater’s current staging of August Wilson’s “King Hedley II,” the Red Bank company has reached the halfway mark in  producing the 10-plays that comprise the playwright’s American Century Cycle.

Actor Brandon J. Dirden, whose career includes TV, Broadway and five plays here (two by Wilson), has done an outstanding job once again with a superb cast of six very accomplished actors and a skilled technical team.

Dirden also chose to stage the play in the 110-seat Marion Huber Theater. The actors are in your face and their thoughts, feelings and desperation are visceral. It’s down-and-dirty theater that, at times, takes your breath away. Continue reading Wilson’s ‘King Hedley II’ very much in yo’ face at Two River Theater

Brandon J. Dirden balances acting with directing, for now

Brandon J. Dirden as Martin Luther King, Jr. in “All The Way.” (PHOTO: Evgenia Eliseeva)

For now, Brandon J. Dirden is an actor who also directs plays. But maybe not for long. He might be transitioning into a director who also acts.

Dirden, 39, is the son of actor Willie Dirden, older brother to actor Jason Dirden, is married to actress Crystal Dickinson and they have a 4-year-old son he calls a “theater rat” because he spends so much time in them.

Dirden made his Broadway debut in “Prelude to a Kiss” (2007) and portrayed Martin Luther King Jr. opposite Bryan Cranston in his Broadway debut as Lyndon B. Johnson in “All the Way” (2014). Continue reading Brandon J. Dirden balances acting with directing, for now

2 decades later scholars to assess August Wilson’s shocking ‘race’ speech

Twenty years after August Wilson delivered a keynote speech some thought attacked the white theater community, McCarter Theatre and Princeton University will hold a symposium in the place where it all happened. (PHOTO: Courtesy of PBS)
Twenty years after August Wilson delivered a keynote speech some thought attacked the white theater community, McCarter Theatre and Princeton University will hold a symposium in the place where it all happened. (PHOTO: Courtesy of PBS)

Twenty years ago, at the 1996 Theatre Communications Group (TCG) annual conference at McCarter Theatre Center, Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning playwright August Wilson delivered the event’s keynote address and blew the lid off the place.

I was there covering the three-day event for the Asbury Park Press as it’s Theater Writer.

“The Ground on Which I Stand” was simultaneously cheered and booed.  I couldn’t believe the gamut of emotions from outrage to shouts of encouragement, people walking out and others nodding heads in agreement and applauding. The reactions to the speech which addressed  questions of race, diversity, and cultural identity in the American Theater broke down along racial lines.

To honor the 20th anniversary of this watershed moment, McCarter Theatre Center and Princeton University’s Lewis Center for the Arts will host a free symposium  Monday, April 18 from 1-5 p.m. at McCarter Theatre Center.

Continue reading 2 decades later scholars to assess August Wilson’s shocking ‘race’ speech

‘Piano Lesson’ at McCarter hits all the right notes


Written in 1990 but set in 1936, “The Piano Lesson” is the fourth in August Wilson’s 10-play Pittsburgh Cycle and his most musical.

Although a fight over a hand-carved upright wooden heirloom  piano is at the center of the play’s conflict, it’s the dialogue that creates most of the music, plus an extended a capella rendition of the prison work song “Berta Berta.” It was a magical stage moment.

Director Jade King Carroll certainly knows her Wilson oeuvre, having served as dramaturg for the recording of the August Wilson Twentieth Century Cycle for WNYC, and offers us a fine, intimate production at the 373-seat Berlind Theatre at the McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton, NJ, though Feb. 7.

Continue reading ‘Piano Lesson’ at McCarter hits all the right notes

Superb ‘Seven Guitars’ extends 2 River’s journey with August Wilson

The full company of August Wilson’s "Seven Guitars" at Two River Theater. From left: Charlie Hudson III (Red Carter), Brittany Bellizeare (Ruby), Crystal A. Dickinson (Louise), Jason Dirden (Canewell), Kevin Mambo (Floyd Barton), Christina Acosta Robinson (Vera), and Brian D. Coats (Hedley).  PHOTO: T Charles Erickson
August Wilson’s “Seven Guitars” at Two River Theater features, from left, Charlie Hudson III (Red Carter), Brittany Bellizeare (Ruby), Crystal A. Dickinson (Louise), Jason Dirden (Canewell), Kevin Mambo (Floyd Barton), Christina Acosta Robinson (Vera), and Brian D. Coats (Hedley). PHOTO: T Charles Erickson

“Seven Guitars,” the 1940s segment of August Wilson’s 20th century Pittsburgh Cycle, is receiving a glorious staging at the Two River Theatre Company in Red Bank (NJ) through Oct. 4.

The company has a knack for hiring good people to mount and perform in its shows and should be applauded for signing  Brandon J. Dirden for his directorial debut. (As an actor we saw him here in 2012’s “Jitney” and  “Topdog/Underdog,” and earlier this year in the world premiere of  Reuben Santiago-Hudson‘s “You’re Blues Ain’t Sweet Like Mine.” Two River doesn’t always take the safest route to fill seats, which is just one reason why this company is so very interesting.

Continue reading Superb ‘Seven Guitars’ extends 2 River’s journey with August Wilson

2 River Theater schedules all-male ‘Forum,’ plus all-female ‘I Remember Mama’

The Two River Theater company announced its 2015-2016 season Monday night before an applause-happy crowd and it includes an all-male Plautus-inspired production of “Something Funny Happened on the Way to the Forum” and an all-female staging of “I Remember Mama” in which none of the 10 actresses are under age 65.

Now that’s something you don’t see very often at the country’s top regional theaters.

Continue reading 2 River Theater schedules all-male ‘Forum,’ plus all-female ‘I Remember Mama’

Ruben Santiago-Hudson’s new play about race now at Two River Theater

 

Looking forward to seeing Ruben Santiago-Hudson’s “Your Blues Ain’t Sweet Like Mine,” a passionate and explosive debate on America’s relationship to race this weekend at Two River Theater. It couldn’t be more timely with an upcoming presidential election and news cycles that often include stories of black men being killed by white cops.

Running through May 3 at the regional theater in Red Bank, NJ, the world-premiere wants audiences to stay for post-play discussions following every performance. That’s certainly one way to get people of various races together to talk.

Written and directed by Tony Award-winner Santiago-Hudson, the 90-minute play centers on an  Upper West Side dinner party invitation that brings an unlikely group together. Two River’s website says it “… brings humor and poignancy to one of the most potent conversations in American life. In our shared history, we all sing the blues. But are your blues sweet like mine?”

Continue reading Ruben Santiago-Hudson’s new play about race now at Two River Theater