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August Wilson’s announced goal is to write a play about the African-American experience in each decade of this century, a project on which he embarked 19 years ago. Seven Guitars is the second play he has set in the ’40s, which means that while he has completed eight plays in his decalogue, he still has three decades (the ’00s, ’80s, and ’90s) to go.
The Wilson cycle thus far:
Joe Turner’s Come and Gone (written in 1983) A man who has spent years of forced labor on a Southern farm arrives at a Pittsburgh boarding house in 1911, searching for his long-lost wife and daughter. (Pre-Broadway production played at Arena Stage in 1988.)
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (1981) A ’20s recording session in Chicago erupts into violence as a group of blues players responds to the pressures of racism in the music industry. (At Studio Theatre in 1986.)
The Piano Lesson (1986) A former sharecropper comes north to ’30s Pittsburgh to persuade his sister to sell the intricately carved piano that is their joint inheritance, so he can buy land. (At the Kennedy Center in 1989.)
Fullerton Street (1980) A depiction of the clash in values between the rural South and the urban North in the ’40s. (Not yet produced in D.C.)
Seven Guitars (1995) A blues artist with a hit record tries to rekindle romance with an ex-flame and rally his musical buddies to head for Chicago and possible stardom. (Currently at Studio Theatre.)
Fences (1982) A former baseball star who is now a laborer clashes with his rebellious son in a ’50s industrial city where black dreams are routinely stifled. (At Arena Stage in 1990.)
Two Trains Running (1989) As a slain civil rights leader is about to be buried in ’60s Pittsburgh, the era’s conflict between cultural assimilation and cultural separatism is played out on a personal level. (At the Kennedy Center in 1991 and at Studio Theater in 1996.)
Jitney (1979) The first play written in the cycle is set at a ’70s cab stand and peopled mostly by independent drivers who can’t obtain licenses to operate legally. (Not yet produced in D.C.)
King Hedley (1998?) Tentative title for the opus Wilson is reportedly working on right now, about what happens in the ’80s to the child a pregnant character is carrying in Seven Guitars. Bob Mondello