Turning regular life into poetry was August Wilson's forte. And Seven Guitars, his 1995 Pulitzer Prize- and 1996 Tony Award-nominated play, sees Wilson set some of that poetry to music — specifically, to his beloved blues.
The story is set in 1948 Pittsburgh, and follows Floyd "Schoolboy" Barton, who returns home from prison to recapture his life as a successful musician with his former bandmates. They are understandably wary of Barton's tarnished reputation, and to varying degrees his promise that if they can scrape together enough money to get to Chicago, their careers will take off.
Going back home and moving on for redemption's sake are running themes in Wilson's Pittsburgh Cycle, a series of 10 plays that visits each of the 20th century's 10 decades to illustrate the African-American experience.
After last year's production of Wilson's Joe Turner's Come and Gone, prominent theater scholar Clinton Turner Davis comes back to TheatreWorks to direct Seven Guitars. "This is a play that really looks at the hopes and aspirations, as well as the disappointments, in a specific neighborhood," he says. But still, Davis feels its themes can easily be translated by any group of people seeking to realize their own version of the American dream.
Seven Guitars is not a musical; in fact, it's often defined as a tragicomedy. But it does include singing and blues music, which Wilson considered seminal to his development as an artist. TheatreWorks artistic director Murray Ross says the meaning, joy and power of the blues — not just as they are sung, but as they are lived and spoken by Wilson's characters — are paramount for audiences to experience. It's also fairly rare around here.
"We are the only theater in Southern Colorado to produce August Wilson, who is perhaps America's greatest 20th-century playwright," Ross says. "This is the fourth play of his we have done, and we are very proud of that."