‘Jitney’ Provides a Smooth Ride’ in Its Hollywood Staging
By DAVID KEARSE
The relationship – or lack thereof – between estranged father and son lies at the heart of August Wilson’s 1979 drama, “Jitney,” currently on the boards at the Lillian Theater in Hollywood.
But make no mistake: While that parent-child dilemma may take center stage and bring a tear to the eye (it did mine), this slice of life in a Car Service office also effectively tells the stories of several men who eke out a living driving gypsy cabs – jitneys – within the Pittsburgh ghetto.
And that shows the late playwright’s talent and skill at capturing what the very capable director, Claude Purdy, calls the “black experience.” On stage, these men’s experience becomes everyone’s. Their personalities, foibles and just plain humanity triumph so that race and color make no difference.
At the helm are the formidable James Avery as Becker, the dispatcher or boss of the car service and father of Booster, the son, played sympathetically by Richard Brooks. Booster has just been released from prison for having murdered a woman and thus wrecked his own life. Becker is unable to forgive, and that emerges as his one tragic flaw.
Really good ensemble acting, though, is what it’s all about – from the incessant ranting and incriminating gossip of Turnbo (in a splendidly grating performance by John Toles-Bey) to the youthful passion of Youngblood (heroically played by Russell Andrews, who created the role originally). The others – Mel Winkler as Fielding, with his haunting speech about the war casualties stacked six high; Alex Morris as Doub; Bill Lee Brown as the numbers man, Shealy; Darryl Alan Reed as Philmore; Lizette Diaz Carion as Youngblood’s misunderstanding wife – play exceptionally well together in a remarkably cohesive company.
Joel Daavid’s detailed Production Design imaginatively evokes the mood of that room on that block of the city (which was about to be boarded up and torn down), as well as the era. Polished work from a good ensemble – worth a visit to Hollywood.