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Review: ‘King’ strong theater at TAG
REVIEW BY JOHN BERGER / firstname.lastname@example.org
A talented actor makes his Hawaii stage debut one to remember as Quantae Love stars in the title role of The Actors Group production of playwright August Wilson’s “King Hedley II.”
‘King Hedley II’
Presented by the Actors Group
» Where: The Actors Group Theatre, 650 Iwilei Rd.
Love is brilliant as an embittered ex-con trying to accumulate the money he needs to open a video rental store. Like many of the male characters in Wilson’s “Pittsburgh Cycle” plays about the experiences of African-Americans in the 20th century, Hedley is mired a system that sets black men up for early failure and then keeps them as powerless as possible thereafter. Love’s eyes blaze and his voice seethes with rage as Hedley encounters obstacles in his struggle for a better future and to obtain the power to control even a tiny part of his environment.
The TAG production continues the admirable commitment made in 2004 when Leonard Piggee suggested that TAG group to do a play by an African-American playwright each February in observance of Black History Month. TAG has presented one of Wilson’s “Pittsburgh Cycle” plays every year except 2005 when it staged Lorraine Hansberry’s 1959 Broadway hit, “A Raisin in the Sun.”
Although nine of the “Pittsburgh Cycle” plays take place in that city, Wilson wrote “King Hedley II” as a sequel to “Seven Guitars,” the play that TAG presented last year. It takes place 37 years after guitarist Floyd “Schoolboy” Barton was murdered in 1948. Several people who knew him are still living in the rundown neighborhood.
Lillian Jones (Ruby), seen last year as Louise in Wilson’s “Seven Guitars,” again gives an engaging portrayal of a strong black woman who has made her peace with the world. Wendy Pearson (Tonya), seen previously at TAG in Wilson’s “Fences” and “Gem of the Ocean,” captures the torment of a thirtysomething single parent who trying to avoid making the same mistakes she made as a teenager — and who fears that her teenage daughter is making them as well. Jones and Pearson give such vivid performances that they’re worth keeping an eye on even when they’re peripherial figures.
Director Troy Apostol gets a beautifully nuanced performance from William Self (Elmore) in the role of a smooth-talking con man. Self has some of the funniest lines in the show and delivers each of them with maximum effect. He also shades his portrayal of the seemingly benevolent and charming man with vaguely malevolent undercurrents.
Josiah D. James (Mister) plays Hedley’s friend and partner-in-crime as a keen observer of human nature albeit one who isn’t quite as sharp as he thinks he is. It’s a winning performance in a good role. This is James’ first stage show in Hawaii. It should not be his last.
Apostol’s potentially problematic choice in casting Deborah Pearson in the male role of Stool Pigeon ends up doing the show no harm. The gender of the character who was known as Canewell in “Seven Guitars” was a key element in that story but unimportant to the action here.
The show is long and moves slowly — all of Wilson’s plays seem to contain many lengthy monologues and “remember when…” conversations — but the actors’ work is so engaging that the time spent listening to them seems well-spent.
The tension builds after intermission. Will Hedley’s efforts to better himself be his undoing? Wilson lets the audience stew while other plot lines are developed.
As with TAG’s previous productions of Wilson’s plays, “King Hedley II” is a show with strong, powerful, universal themes that all Hawaii should make time to see.
John Berger has been a mainstay in the local entertainment scene for more than 40 years. Contact him via email at email@example.com.