By Sarai Henriquez, Assistant Culture Editor
While the name August Wilson might not be a common one in many households, those with an appreciation for American theater certainly know it. But regardless of your familiarity with this two-time Pulitzer-Prize winning playwright, you will walk out of the current production of his play “Seven Guitars” at CSUDH appreciating him, and wanting to know more about him.
And thanks to this emotionally heavy and captivating production directed by Jozben Barrett, you can’t forget the bitter reality that a play set in 1948 has so many parallels to today; and that the human desire to strive to improve our lives is one that is inspired, and threatened, by the constant cycle of hope and despair.
Fame, love, betrayal and cigarettes are all addressed in Wilson’s play, which is an emotional roller coaster, one in which you may find yourself eagerly rooting for a character who may not deserve a second chance. Though morally and thematically complicated, the setting is rather simple: the backyard of a house in Pittsburgh in 1948 (the play is one of the 10 that comprise Wilson’s Pittsburgh Cycle, a 10-play cycle that documented the African American experience of the 20th Century, with each play set in a different decade.)
The play begins in the backyard serving as the site for the funeral of Floyd “Schoolboy” Barton, who died shortly after his release from prison. Barton finds that he has become an overnight sensation with a recording of a song he finished before his jail time. Through flashbacks, we learn that he’s returned to Pittsburgh trying to convince his old love, Vera Dotson, to come to Chicago to enjoy what he feels will be his newly arrived stardom.
However, via flashbacks, we find Floyd has made a lot of mistakes, and while he is determined to right all those wrongs, he has a huge task to prove to his friends that he has truly changed.
Caleb Thermidor dives deeply into the mind and soul of the smooth-talking, ladies man, Floyd “Schoolboy” Barton. Once Thermidor sets foot on stage he is the embodiment of a person who will not let go of his dreams despite what that may cost.
Jordan Hyman plays Floyd’s love interest, Vera Dotson. All the girls who have ever been burned by a man will understand her story and how she won’t let this man sweet-talk her before jumping into anything with him. Her whole performance gave me goosebumps and made me want to yell “Girl… you don’t need this boy!” Hyman is phenomenal.
Also making their campus debut are Blessing Oluwole as Floyd’s harmonica player, Canewell, and drummer Red Carter played by Tevin Jackson.
Both actors captured the joy of playing with Floyd but also their reluctance at going to Chicago to record, where white producers steal money from the hits they earn.
CSUDH senior Nisey Turner plays Louise, Vera’s landlady. She is surprised and dumbfounded when her niece Ruby, played by freshman Irene Jones, comes into the picture and brings along her own problems.
Rounding out the cast is Phil Bray who plays the ominous, Bible-infused yet likable Hedley, who has turned his back on the white world that he loathes.
Director Barrett and his cast bring the words and mind of Wilson to life in this powerful production; his voice remains clear 25 years after “Seven Guitars” was produced, and 10 years after his death. That is a testament to both the power of those words and the strengths of this production.