In Seven Guitars, playwright August Wilson lets us eavesdrop on the backyard bantering of a 1948 Pittsburgh boarding house. As the various neighbors gather to gab, the talk is seemingly about the mundane—roosters, cards, liquor, music and women. But if you listen hard, you’ll hear the passions, lost promises and pain of a downtrodden people.
Celebration Arts’ production of Seven Guitars honors Wilson, the prolific playwright who died last year and whose work includes Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Fences and The Piano Lesson—all staged locally.
As with many of Wilson’s plays, Seven Guitars gives us a real sense of its era. It’s right after World War II, when blacks—including Floyd “Schoolboy” Barton, a war veteran and aspiring musician—were moving to cities, trying to assimilate and make a better life. Floyd’s life, and death (revealed in the first scene), is a catalyst for the play’s action. It’s a testament to both Wilson’s writing and the tight, charismatic Celebration Arts cast that this character seems so alive.
The talented performers make Wilson’s masterful dialogue and characters shine. When these friends shoot the shit, with Wilson’s help, they weave seeming non-sequiturs into a tapestry of hard lives, bitterness, redemption and hope.