By Larry Taylor/Garden Grove Journal
Before his untimely death in 2005, Wilson wrote 10 plays dealing with the black experience in America during each decade of the 20th Century.
Most took place in the urban area of Pittsburgh where Wilson grew up. Over the years SCR has produced several Wilson plays, most recently “Fences” in 2006 which dealt with the Fifties.
“Jitney” occurs in the Seventies in a make-shift “gypsy” cab dispatch station where drivers gather, waiting for customers to call.
Soon it is revealed that their old building location is set to be demolished as part of gentrifying the area. This occurrence represents the play’s main theme – old giving way to new. This resonates in the overall story of “old-timers” trying to hold on to their job and young people striving to get a hold in life.
In charge of the station is the formidable Becker (an excellent Charlie Robinson). He is the stabilizing force in the group, keeping the place running smoothly. He intervenes to prevent sometimes temper-filled arguments taking place and makes sure all rules are upheld. Meanwhile, he has worries about the possible closure.
Another sticky situation develops when he finds out his son, Booster (Montae Russell, a strong presence) is about to be released from 20 years in prison.
Their relationship is strained to say the least. What happens between the two when they see each other and whether the station stays open provides the crux of the play.
Other standouts in the cast include Turnbo (the properly annoying Ellis E. Williams). The play contains lots of laughs and often he is at the center, sticking his nose into others’ affairs.
Particularly he causes trouble getting into the marital problems of Youngblood (Larry Bates in a smart performance). Youngblood comes across as a player and schemer.
As it turns out, though, that is only half the story. His girlfriend, Rena ( Kristy Johnson, cute and sassy) creates tension when she stops in to upbraid him.
As the group of seven come and go, the audience gets caught up in their situations. When the action moves to a shocking climax, it is truly affecting.
Deserving praise is the scenic design by Shaun Motley which is replete with detail. Shabby furniture, crate boxes as end tables, a battered Coke machine, an old blackboard charting pickups – everything captures the lived-in look of a place which has seen better days.
Following its run on SCR’s Segerstrom Stage, ending June 10, “Jitney” will travel to The Pasadena Playhouse, where it runs from June 21 – July 15.