Friday, January 15, 2010

The Piano Lesson by August Wilson (1990)

My latest look at the random book generator brought up The Piano Lesson by August Wilson (1990), which Dr. M bought and read for an African American Literature class a couple of years ago.

The Piano Lesson takes place in 1930s Pittsburgh (and is actually the fourth play in Wilson's series The Pittsburgh Cycle) at the home of Doaker, his widowed niece Berniece, and her daughter Maretha. Berniece's brother Boy Willie is in need of some money so he and his friend Lymon come up from the south to sell a truckload of watermelons and negotiate the sale of a family heirloom, an intricately carved piano. Boy Willie has a chance to buy the land that their family had worked as slaves, if he can just get enough money together. But the piano has a history that makes it un-sellable in Berniece's eyes. The conflict between the brother and sister and the ghosts of the past and the present give this play a tension and presence that you can feel through the pages. It is pretty easy to see why The Piano Lesson won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama...

Of course, reading a play and seeing a play are two very different (although often equally enjoyable) things. I'd love to see The Piano Lesson someday, but for now I'll have to make do with the trailer from the 1995 film of the play, featuring most of the Broadway cast.

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