August Wilson is the featured playwright in Cygnet Theatre’s annual fall rotating-repertory offering. Seven Guitars and King Hedley II, both part of Wilson’s Pittsburgh Cycle, are set 40 years apart, though they feature several of the same characters. If you see both plays, definitely see them in the order in which they were written, as the latter King Hedley II will make more contextual sense to you. On their own, King Hedley II is the more powerful of the two. Its nearly three hours are tense, wrenching ones, delving uncompromisingly into the experience of black Americans trying to survive in Pittsburgh’s Hill District during the Reaganomics ‘80s. Chief among them is King himself (a fiercely intense Laurence Brown), whose life of one step forward and two steps back is also one of violence and desperation.
In both plays, Antonio TJ Johnson stands out, hovering over Seven Guitars and King Hedley II as manic, precognitive characters whose presence on the stage foretells retribution -- human or from on high. He may be from one moment to the next comic relief or a living, breathing omen.
Jennifer L. Nelson directs each production, the ensembles of which also include Ro Boddie (handling the lead role in Seven Guitars), Yolanda Franklin, Grandison Phelps III, Milena Phillips and the singularly named Yvonne.
David L. Coddon is a Southern California theater critic.