August Wilson: Fences on Screen, Jitney on Stage and His Own Story at THIRTEEN

Christina Knight | December 23, 2016

Two works from August Wilson’s 10-play cycle are making a big comeback within days of each other in late December. Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Fences (1984) gets its Hollywood film treatment on Christmas day, with stars Denzel Washington and Viola Davis. His play Jitney (1979), directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson, premieres on Broadway in January and opens in previews on December 28.

To best appreciate the playwright’s body of work and own life, watch August Wilson: The Ground on Which I Stand, or tune in on January 20, 2017 for the national rebroadcast on PBS. Film and theater luminaries including Viola Davis, Charles Dutton, Laurence Fishburne, James Earl Jones, Suzan-Lori Parks, Ruben Santiago-Hudson and Phylicia Rashad share their stories of the career- and life-changing experience of bringing Wilson’s rich theatrical voice to the stage. Wilson’s sister Freda Ellis, his widow and costume designer Constanza Romero, as well as friends, colleagues and scholars trace Wilson’s influences, creative evolution, triumphs, struggles and quest for cultural determinism before his untimely death from liver cancer.

August Wilson: The Ground on Which I Stand premiered on American Masters on PBS in February 2015 to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Wilson’s birth, the 10th anniversary of his death and Black History Month. Unprecedented access to Wilson’s theatrical archives, rarely seen interviews and new dramatic readings bring to life his seminal 10-play cycle chronicling a century of African-American life.

Jitney on Broadway

Previews for the Broadway debut of August Wilson’s play Jitney, directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson, begin December 28 at New York City’s Manhattan Theatre Club. Set in 1977 at an unofficial taxi station threatened with demolition, Jitney explores the lives of taxi drivers, highlighting conflicts between generations and different concepts of legacy and identity. The official opening night for Jitney is Thursday, January 19, 2017. The play’s Off-Broadway premiere was at Second Stage Theatre in 2000.

Fences on the Silver Screen

August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Fences premiered in 1987 at Broadway’s 46th Street Theatre. The main character is Troy Maxson, a former Negro Baseball League player, who by 1957 has become a bitter man in his 50s, working as a garbageman. His frustration and disappointments in life affect his wife Rose and son Cory, who like his father, is a gifted athlete.

Fences, the new movie starring (and directed by) Denzel Washington as Troy and Viola Davis as Rose, opens on December 25. An acclaimed veteran of Wilson’s works on stage, Davis won a Tony Award and Drama Desk Award for Best Featured Actress in the 2001 Broadway production of King Hedley II. She also starred in Seven Guitars (1996) on Broadway alongside Ruben Santiago-Hudson, won a Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Play. The film is already getting awards buzz with some Golden Globe and SAG Awards nods.

Read Variety’s glowing review of the film, which says, “Wilson’s dialogue is a marvel — soulful, naturalistic, and profane, at moments downright musical in the snap of its cadences. And Washington tears through it with a joyful ferocity, like a man possessed.”

A scene from the play Fences is part of the American Masters documentary.

Public Conversation on August Wilson

After showing highlights from August Wilson: The Ground on Which I Stand on February 9, 2015, the film’s director and producer, Sam Pollard, moderated a panel with actors Phylicia Rashad and Ruben Santiago-Hudson; Constanza Romero, Wilson’s widow and costume designer, and Rich Blint, Ph.D., of Columbia University. The event was co-presented by THIRTEEN and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

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