Sept. 16, 2013
“Seven Guitars” is a fast-paced play set in old Philadelphia in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, combining the initial beats of blues music, African oral traditions, a capella music and harmony.
There is much singing and music playing during the three-hour play, but it is not a musical. Vera Dotson, played by Nambi E. Kelly, is mourning the death of her fiancé, Floyd “Schoolboy” Barton, played by Calvin M. Thompson.
Then the play flashes back to reveal how the cast got to that point. Through music, immaculate body language and unparalleled acting, the cast takes the audience back in time to a place where life was much harder and more unfair.
“Seven Guitars” gives insight to black people’s struggles against racism in the late 40s, when policemen beat them for simply sitting on a street corner.
“Seven Guitars” is a true representation of the blues culture, a culture important primarily because it reflects responses of American blacks to the hardships they face.
Contained in the blues is a philosophical system at work, echoing the ideas and attitudes of people as part of the oral tradition.
“The music provides you with an emotional reference for the information, and it is sanctioned by the community in the sense that if someone sings the song, other people sing the song,” August Wilson, the playwright, has said.
The set itself is truly magical. It fits the scene of an early Philadelphia, in what is implied to be an all-black neighborhood.
The entire cast sat outdoors in the backyard with small lights hanging all around and even the laundry hanging out. All of the actors were perfectly in character, and their costumes were entirely suitable.
The performance by every cast member is unparalleled by any other cast. Each is so individual, so true to character that it is impossible not to believe the experience is truth. It feels so real. Even the chickens in the coop have live chickens.
Though it is a bit nerve-wracking when the cast’s crazy “King” Hedley prepares to slaughter one of the chickens live for his sandwiches, all is well when he pulls out a fake, though very realistic-looking, chicken to slaughter.
This play is highly recommended. It is elaborate but simple, true to the time period, funny yet serious and promotes understanding of the blues culture.