You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Seven Guitars

What was growing increasingly apparent in some of August Wilson's recent works is clearly evident in his newest, "Seven Guitars." One of America's most gifted playwrights needs a good editor.

Louise - Michele Shay
Canewell - Ruben Santiago-Hudson
Red Carter - Tommy Hollis
Vera - Viola Davis
Hedley - Albert Hall
Floyd Barton - Jerome Preston Bates
Ruby - Rosalyn Coleman

What was growing increasingly apparent in some of August Wilson’s recent works is clearly evident in his newest, “Seven Guitars.” One of America’s most gifted playwrights needs a good editor.

Though Wilson’s writing is often poetic, occasionally funny and always eloquent in an earthy way that displays a keen feeling for the beauty and power of African-American argot, “Seven Guitars” ultimately bogs down in too much extraneous talk that impedes the plot and makes the play seem longer and less focused than it should be.

Set in the back yard of a Pittsburgh tenement in 1948, “Seven Guitars” tells the story of Floyd Barton (Jerome Preston Bates), a blues guitarist who believes he is on the verge of fame and fortune after having cut his first hit song. Flush with the thrill of success, Barton has come to the home of his girlfriend, Vera (Viola Davis), to ask her to go with him to Chicago, where he plans to record his first album with his buddies and fellow blues players Canewell (Ruben Santiago-Hudson) and Red Carter (Tommy Hollis). But despite deep feelings for Burton, Vera is reluctant because she doubts he can remain faithful to her.

Wilson also introduces a rather melodramatic subplot involving Vera’s neighbor Hedley (Albert Hall), who is dying of tuberculosis. Hedley wants to father a child before he dies. Near the end of act one, the arrival of the voluptuous Ruby (Rosalyn Coleman), the niece of Louise (Michele Shay), another of Vera’s neighbors, provides what appears to be an unexpected opportunity for Hedley to fulfill his wish.

Though Wilson presents the intriguing threads of a plot early on, “Seven Guitars” stops dead in its tracks about halfway through the first act, when the men gather in Vera’s back yard for what amounts to a lengthy gabfest about a multitude of topics ranging from blues music to guns and knives, strange medicinal plants and moonshine. Much of the talk is certainly entertaining, but none of it really furthers the story Wilson has to tell.

In act two, the plot suddenly kicks back into gear with news that Barton’s chief financial backer has been arrested, thereby putting the guitarist’s Chicago recording plans in jeopardy. Barton turns to unsavory means to finance his dream, a move that eventually leads to his death just as Vera has finally agreed to go with him to Chicago. But Barton’s demise is robbed of much of its dramatic power because Wilson hasn’t sufficiently developed the character over the course of the three-hour play.

“Seven Guitars” could benefit from cutting out much of the free-roaming talk in act one and replacing it with material that more effectively and concisely fleshes out Barton — his rocky relationship with Vera and his passion for blues music.

Director Walter Dallas stepped in when Wilson regular Lloyd Richards had to bow out for health reasons. Despite the script’s problems, the production flows smoothly and nicely captures the real strengths of Wilson’s writing as it is delivered by an ensemble that includes several fine performances. Davis, in particular, strikes an affectingly sweet note as Vera, and Hollis displays superb comic timing in the part of the drummer Red Carter.

Hall is a genuinely eerie Hedley, and Shay and Santiago-Hudson bring bite to their roles. But Bates’ portrayal of Floyd Barton is a little too flat, and Coleman, as Ruby, relies too much on bumps and grinds.

Scott Bradley has designed a single finely detailed backyard garden set. Christopher Akerlind’s lighting leans too heavily on yellowish tints, but Constanza Romero’s period costumes are right on the mark.

Seven Guitars

Goodman Theater, Chicago; 683 seats; $38 top

Production: A Goodman Theater presentation of a play in two acts by August Wilson. Directed by Walter Dallas.

Creative: Sets, Scott Bradley; costumes, Constanza Romero; lighting, Christopher Akerlind; sound, Tom Clark; musical direction; Dwight Andrews; dramaturg, Tom Creamer; production stage manager, T. Paul Lynch. Artistic director, Robert Falls; managing director, Roche Schulfer. Opened Jan. 23, 1995. Reviewed Jan. 25. Running time: 3 HOURS.

Cast: Louise - Michele Shay
Canewell - Ruben Santiago-Hudson
Red Carter - Tommy Hollis
Vera - Viola Davis
Hedley - Albert Hall
Floyd Barton - Jerome Preston Bates
Ruby - Rosalyn Coleman

More Legit

  • Bryan Cranston First Time in Variety

    Bryan Cranston on His Early Roles, Dealing With Rejection and His 'Erasable Mind'

    Following his 2014 Tony Award for best actor as President Lyndon B. Johnson in Robert Schenkkan’s play “All the Way,” Bryan Cranston is looking to add to his trophy collection this year with his performance as Howard Beale in “Network.” The deranged anchorman — who’s famously “mad as hell and not going to take this [...]

  • Ink Play West End London

    Wary Theater Rivalry Between London and New York Gives Way to a Boom in Crossovers

    Give or take a little tectonic shift, the distance between London and New York still stands at 3,465 miles. Arguably, though, the two theater capitals have never been closer. It’s not just the nine productions playing in duplicate in both locations — believed to be the most ever — with three more expected in the [...]

  • Alex Brightman Beetlejuice Broadway

    How Alex Brightman Brought a Pansexual Beetlejuice to Life on Broadway

    Alex Brightman gives the deadliest performance on Broadway — in a good way — in “Beetlejuice.” The big-budget musical adaptation of the 1988 film directed by Tim Burton has scored eight Tony nominations, including best actor. To play the frisky role, Brightman (“School of Rock”) dons Beetlejuice’s striped suit and an assortment of colorful wigs [...]

  • Santino Fontana Tootsie Broadway Illustration

    'Tootsie' Star Santino Fontana on the Challenges of His Tony-Nominated Dual Role

    Santino Fontana is doing double duty on Broadway this year. The “Tootsie” star scored his second Tony Award nomination this month for his hilarious portrayal of struggling actor Michael Dorsey and Dorothy Michaels, the female persona that Dorsey assumes to win a role in a play. The musical, based on the 1982 comedy starring Dustin [...]

  • Dear Evan Hansen

    Broadway Cast Albums Find Fresh Footing With Hip New Sounds, Viral Outreach

    Mixtapes. YouTube videos. Dedicated playlists. Ancillary products. Viral marketing. Epic chart stays. These are things you expect to hear from a record label discussing Cardi B or Beyoncé. Instead, this is the new world of a very old staple, the Broadway original cast recording. Robust stats tell the tale: Atlantic’s “Hamilton” album beat the record [...]

  • Ali Stroker Oklahoma

    Ali Stroker on 'Oklahoma!': 'This Show Doesn’t Follow the Rules and That Is So Who I Am'

    Ali Stroker is no stranger to rewriting history. With her 2015 Broadway debut in “Spring Awakening,” she became the first actor in a wheelchair to perform on the Great White Way. Three years later, she’s back onstage in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!” as Ado Annie, the flirtatious local who splits her affections between a resident [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content