The revival of “The Piano Lesson,” which opened Thursday night on Broadway, is generally in tune.
The August Wilson play’s best asset is its younger leads John David Washington and Danielle Brooks, each of whom are already broadly admired, however show an altogether new and attractive vary of abilities.
2 hours and 45 minutes, with one intermission. On the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, 243 W. forty seventh St.
Particularly for Washington, who has been terrific in subdued roles in movies reminiscent of “BlacKkKlansman” and “Tenet,” a gregarious ball of live-in-person vitality like Wilson’s Boy Willie is simply the ticket.
Boy Willie is a sharecropper, dwelling in 1936 together with his eyes unblinking on the long run, who travels up from Mississippi to see his sister Berniece (Brooks) and uncle Doaker (Samuel L. Jackson) in Pittsburgh.
He’s not in PA on vacay, although — he’s bought information: Sutter, the person who owns the Mississippi land Boy Willie’s household as soon as labored on as slaves, is lifeless, and Boy Willie has the prospect to purchase it. However the one manner he can afford the plot is by promoting the cherished piano.
However Berniece, adamantly, is not going to permit her brother to take the instrument, which is weighty not solely due to its dimension however its previous. The piano, just like the land, has absorbed many years of inauspicious however important recollections.
“Mama Ola polished this piano along with her tears for 17 years,” she booms at Boy Willie. Brooks is riveting as she groundedly offers the wrenching speech. We final noticed the “Orange Is the New Black” actress on Broadway within the musical “The Shade Purple,” and she or he brings that very same fiery defiance to Wilson’s play that she did to the tune “Hell No!” in 2015.
A petrified Berniece admits she has been seeing Sutter’s specter within the corridor, and Doaker witnessed him sitting on the piano. On occasion, we see a blue mild upstairs.
Brooks additionally has a enjoyable, horny, tense tête-à-tête with Ray Fisher as Lymon, Boy Willie’s kindly womanizer pal who accompanies him from the South. Fisher will get laughs because the simply distracted puppy-dog sort, however there’s a poignant disappointment to how misplaced his Lymon is. Additionally making himself at house is Michael Potts as Doaker’s retro older brother Wining Boy. He oozes seedy charisma and sounds nice.
Doaker, performed by Jackson, listens greater than he reveals off, so the half might be thankless. Jackson offers him a number of attraction — he’s Samuel L. Jackson! — however his most consequential second — a monologue during which he explains the difficult and harrowing backstory of the piano — fizzles. And that story is terribly essential to the tone of the present.
It’s then that we start to know that that piano, this room and these individuals are haunted, not solely by an precise ghost, however by historical past.
What the manufacturing — directed by LaTanya Richardson Jackson, spouse of Samuel L. — by no means fairly nails is the ghost story that hovers over the lounge drama and the way finest to marry the 2. So it leans too closely on dreary surroundings.
Beowulf Boritt, channeling Netflix horror honcho Mike Flanagan, has designed a grayscale set that’s a contact too on the nostril. Made up of charred and cracked wood beams with sparse ornament (no wallpaper, no footage), it will be a greater match for a full-on horror play. Its huge symbolic closing gesture is unimpressive for Broadway.
The well-known ending, involving the aforementioned ghoul, can also be bungled. This time it combines a display screen and less-than-adequate projection, the shoddiness of which distracts from the finale’s energy and goal. For those who’re sitting even barely off heart, you may barely discern what’s occurring. It could possibly be an iPhone flashlight or the aurora borealis.
The windup, nevertheless, is wealthy and sublimely acted. When Washington snarled and stared at Brooks and Jackson with unrelenting depth, I used to be reminded of his father Denzel’s explosive Troy in Wilson’s “Fences” that he carried out 12 years in the past simply two blocks away. In a play very a lot about legacy, that felt proper.
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