GableStage kicked off its 25th season with the Miami premiere of August Wilson’s How I Learned What I Learned. What a powerful, in-your-face, triumphant romp!
The play resonates, leaving one questioning their own integrity in relation to the constructs of life. What exactly will you put up with at your job? In your relationships? Are you sure you’re not settling?
The autobiographical play about African American dramaturgist August Wilson debuted on Broadway in 2003 with Mr. Wilson acting in it. The story focuses mainly on his emerging years, 1965 to 1967, during the Civil Rights era, in the Hill District of Pittsburgh.
It is a one-man show heavy on the theme of race.
Or better yet, what it meant and still means to be Black in America.
A one-man play running 100 minutes without an intermission could fly off the rails fast. This doesn’t for two reasons. The acting. Oh, my! What a force. Melvin Huffnagle as August Wilson was truly impressive, just to recite and remember all that dialogue, a true feat. But also, with so much voice and animation and range. And it’s not like he played only August Wilson. He must have played 12 to 15 other characters. We rarely see a performance so strong in a regional setting.
Also, Mr. Huffnagle was originally the understudy on this play.
It’s early in the season, but don’t forget Mr. Huffnagle next year, sweet Carbonell.
Furthermore, the writing and structure. Like, damn. It’s written as a series of autobiographical vignettes, so we are never in a scene for too long. It’s anecdotal and often gripping. And within the anecdotes are some amazing analogies. The 10-gallon bucket stands out. As did the your-mama-ain’t-dead soliloquy.
“If your mamma ain’t dead I pity you. For one day you will have to live without her prayers hanging over you. You will have to find them all alone.” paraphrasing.
How I Learned What I Learned
August Wilson was a tough son of a gun.
Not surprising considering he grew up in urban Pittsburgh, a city known for its steel, a blue-collar, rust-belt, roughneck city during a turbulent time in history.
Learning about his life is inspiring and also transcendental.
Here at The Jitney we’ve always been interested in August Wilson. He famously wrote a play in 1982 called Jitney, in the 70’s taxis didn’t service the Hill District neighborhood so African Americans were forced to take jitney buses for transport.
There is also a theater in Manhattan named after the playwright, housing a wonderful photo collection featuring the two-time Pulitzer Prize winner. Although Mr. Wilson was on our radar, to be honest, we’ve never seen a play of his on a stage. We’ve seen some of his films that were adapted, Fences, Ma Rainey.
And in 2003, we were in New York and remember How I Learned What I Learned playing. Seemed boring at the time compared to Wicked and Avenue Q. But man, what a regret to have not seen this play with August Wilson in it. And, even more importantly, what a blessing that GableStage brought it here to Miami so we could all see it now!