Just a few weeks ago celebrities, directors, writers and theater patrons gathered in Pittsburgh to witness the celebratory opening of August Wilson’s boyhood home in the Hill district. Wilson is a Tony and two-time Pulitzer Prize winning playwright who set all of his dramas in this predominantly Black community.
Beginning in 1984 with “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” Wilson’s riveting conflicts and vibrant characters left Broadway’s audiences in awe and ready to experience a new way of creative vitality and poetic storytelling. The prolific Wilson, who died in 2005, left his mark on the storied avenue with celebrated dramas that reflected the lives of African Americans in every decade of the 20th century. Among them were two Pulitzer Prize winning dramas, “Fences” (1985), and “The Piano Lesson” (1987). In all he wrote, nine celebrated Broadway plays including “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone” and “King Hedley II.”
Wilson’s home is now a historic landmark in what once was a poor, predominantly Black neighborhood in which he found inspiration for his characters and the setting for all of his works. It sits on the hill in what now looks like a newly gentrified community with renovated tenements lining the street. His home is like many turn-of-the-century three story tenements where he, his mother, Daisy Wilson and his five siblings lived.
Today, many people are familiar with the movie adaptation of “Fences,” starring Denzel Washington, and the recent award-winning adaptation of “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” directed by George C. Wolfe and starring the late Chadwick Boseman. Wilson’s legacy has clearly reached beyond the Broadway stage. On Broadway Kenny Leon directed a revival of “Fences.” And over the years and across the country local theaters have mounted revivals of “Fences,” “The Piano Lesson” and recently “Jitney” in their local professional theaters. In the backyard of his historic home is an outdoor theater where they also produce Wilson’s works.
This coming theater season, one of his titular dramas, “The Piano Lesson” comes to Broadway starring Samuel L. Jackson, John David Washington and Danielle Brooks, and begins previews Sept. 19 at the Ethel Barrymore Theater, 243 W. 47th St.
For more info, visit www.augustwilsonhouse.org.