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    Review: Actors Theatre's Seven Guitars
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    “Seven Guitars” is a story of hope.

    It is a story of the lengths a man will go to in order to achieve his dream—compelling himself toward success at a cost that many would say is far too high.

    But then, isn’t that the difference between those who go after their dreams, and those who simply dream them?

    “Seven Guitars” is also a story of getting by; of making the best of hard times—when you’re poor and black and living in downtown Pittsburgh in 1948; a time not known for being friendly to those of color.

    It is a story of resilience and of community and of love. It is a demonstration that the definition of family is not bound by blood, but rather is painted with a broad brush, encompassing those we care enough about to gather into the tight circle of our hearts.

    None of the seven characters in August Wilson’s “Seven Guitars” are technically related, but in the production onstage now at Actors Theatre, you wouldn’t know it.

    In the opening scene, Vera, Canewell, Red, and Louise are just arriving back from Floyd’s funeral. They sit in the backyard of the sub-divided house Vera and Louise share, reflecting on the service with reverence and a just a touch of quiet humor.

    Then, the mood and the moment changes. Instantly, we are transported back to a time when Floyd was still alive.

    We have seen where the story ends; now it’s time to see how it begins.

    And there’s quite a story to be told. Floyd (J. Alphonse Nicholson) is a hot-blooded and big-dreaming blues guitarist who has just returned from a three-month stint in jail, where he has been housed due to falsified vagrancy charges. He arrives at Vera’s house to try to rekindle an old flame, and finds that his match doesn’t have much spark anymore. In the interim, he has also discovered that his previously recorded song is now a hit record, and a Chicago recording studio wants him for more work.

    But getting to Chicago, and getting back with Vera, both prove to be easier said than done.

    Though the production is most definitely a drama, the cast and director Colman Domingo have done a terrific job of finding numerous pockets of humor that make it largely entertaining. Louise (Sharon Washington), the de facto matriarch, rules the clan with a no-nonsense attitude and looks that could kill, and Forrest McClendon (Canewell) brings more sparkle than has ever been rendered to a monologue about cooking greens. The camaraderie of the ensemble is easy; one truly believes that these friends and neighbors are more like family than anything else. The backyard setting by scenic designer William Boles is beautiful in its dilapidation, right down to the details.

    If there is anything to disagree with in this Actors Theatre season opener, it is the length. At nearly three hours, it is long for a straight play. It seems that there could be some strategic cuts made without sacrificing the integrity of Wilson’s work, or the beauty of this production.

    August Wilson's “Seven Guitars” continues through September 20 at Actors Theatre. Tickets are available online or by calling 502-584-1204.

    Image: Courtesy of B.Brymer/Actors Theatre




    Michelle Rynbrandt's picture

    About Michelle Rynbrandt

    Before landing in the Possibility City, Michelle toured the country performing in various regional theatres. Having been there and done that, she can honestly say that Louisville's cultural opportunities are second to none.

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