August Wilson’s Pittsburgh Cycle, a series of ten plays that tell the story of an African-American neighborhood in Pittsburgh over the ten decades of the twentieth century, is an extraordinary achievement. King Hedley II, which covers the 1980s, is one of the cycle’s darkest stories. It focuses on Hedley, an ex-con and grifter who lives in Pittsburgh’s Hill District. The neighborhood is filled with people who have been battered by Reaganomics; there’s Hedley’s complicated mom, his misguided best friend Mister, and an assortment of victims and thugs, including a 35-year-old grandmother (we’ll leave it up to you to decide which one she is).
Hedley’s trying to rebuild his life and dreams of owning a video store, but needs $10,000 to do it. It’s a seemingly impossible task made even more difficult by the fact that his plan is to sell stolen refrigerators to raise the money. (He later resorts to robbing a jewelry store, as if that were a perfectly normal alternative to a 9-to-5 job.)
In most of Wilson’s tales, familial and social pressures threaten to break the backs of his valiant characters, and Hedley is no different. Most noticeably, there’s the weight of the fabled father he never knew. Many of Wilson’s stories are incredibly sad, and Hedley is among the saddest. But it’s also infused with a dark comedy, Wilson’s nod to the ironies that make life beautiful even as it moves toward darkness.
Preview performances May 5 to May 9. Regular performance schedule is 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Through June 3. Ensemble Theatre, 3535 Main. For information, call 713-520-0055 or visit www.ensemblehouston.com.
Thursdays-Saturdays. Starts: May 10. Continues through June 3, 2012