The Piano Lesson

Rated 5.0

Celebration Arts continues its tradition of producing August Wilson’s plays with The Piano Lesson, one of the best of Wilson’s 10-play cycle about the African-American experience in the 20th century. Set in Pittsburgh in the 1930s, The Piano Lesson is a tale of historical conflict writ small—the impact of slavery, Reconstruction and the great migration to northern industrial cities from the agrarian South is compressed and wound tightly into the dispute between two siblings over a family piano.

If the premise sounds simple, that’s because it is. Wilson’s genius was in language and storytelling, and Celebration Arts’ production takes that genius for a wild, funny and heart-wrenching ride. The easy family patter reveals almost a century of history, and each re-telling of the family’s, and black America’s, story sets up a jazz-like variation on a theme.

An excellent set design by Ron Dumonchelle makes use of a small space in so ingenious a fashion that the illusion of looking into a full-sized house is achieved. On opening night, that ingeniousness was stretched a bit, as the company had to deal with an unexpected March heat wave.

There aren’t many low points in this production—slight awkwardness in the first act from a couple of first-time actors surely will disappear quickly. The high points are too numerous to detail in full, but include a star turn from the gifted and energetic Romann Hodge as Boy Willie and the repressed rage of Wanel Thomas as his sister Berniece. While the talented—and young—cast deserves much of the credit for the excellence of the production, veteran theater-goers will offer kudos to esteemed director Michael W. Benjamin, whose experience and skill make Celebration Arts’ production of The Piano Lesson a must see.