‘Jitney’ captures the Black experience

By: Taylor Zachary ~Staff Writer~

Photo courtesy of Mikki Schaffner | Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner August Wilson’s Jitney opened at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park on Oct. 15 with stars Michael Kevin Darnall (left), Shane Taylor (center) and Dion Graham (right).

Five Black men held back tears, centering themselves around a question all too familiar to the Black-American experience: what now?

A product of the literary genius of August Wilson, Jitney is a story that follows five African- American adult males as they struggle to maintain a jitney car service station. The play is set in 1977 Pittsburgh in a Black neighborhood plagued by the consequences of displacement, incarceration and gentrification.

Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park re-introduced Jitney to our culturally robust community on Oct. 15 and honors the work of director Thomas Douglas.

The show is broken into two acts, centered around both the seemingly inevitable destruction of the jitney shop and the broken relationships among the shop owner Becker and his adult son. The casting here is superb as the audience comes to learn, with intimacy, the character’s beautiful struggle of resistance, resilience and reconciliation.

The eloquent simplicity of Wilson’s characters challenges the myth of monolithic Black identity. Rena, gracefully played by Stori Ayers, ignites the stage with the thoughtfulness and poise only a Black woman could offer. All the while her boyfriend Youngblood, played by Michael Darnall, struggles to find himself as a veteran in a United States era that was paradoxical for Black soldiers returning from Vietnam. Youngblood finds comfort in the shared war stories of an elder, Philmore, played by Kenneth Early, who is a quiet source of wisdom throughout the play.

Turnbo, played with striking effect by Dion Graham, brings the heat, literally. With a longbarrow revolver readily accessible, Graham’s arrogance and stubbornness is unmatched and seldom challenged.

Additionally, the quick wit and folly of Fielding, played effortlessly by Doug Brown, sheds light onto processes of self-medication and the battle between sobriety and sorrow. In a silently powerful moment, he shares a much-needed drink with Booster, Becker’s son, who is a returning citizen after evading the death penalty and serving 20 years in prison.

At the heart of the play is a tenderness that is rarely seen in plays centering on Black men. The recurring themes of joy, struggle, pain, happiness, grief, resilience and love allow for intimacy, which in turn enhances our capacity to accept the strikingly simple, but often neglected, humanity of Blackness.

What Jitney captures, ultimately, to great effect, is a re-claiming of the Black experience as an experience that is fully human. This is a human experience that does not transcend race, nor does it try to, but re-centers Blackness as integral to understanding the fullness of humanity.

Jitney will run until Nov. 12. Tickets range from $20 – $75 per seat, but the Playhouse will host a student matinee on Nov. 10. Available tickets for the matinee are $12 with a valid student ID.