Sunday, December 28, 2014

North American Africans in the Bay cannot afford to miss Ayodele's production of Jitney by August Wilson

 Marvin X associate Hopie, MX and his chief student, Dr. Ayodele Nzinga, director/producer of the Lower Bottom Playaz
photo Adam Turner

From SF Gate

With little fanfare, Oakland theater company the Lower Bottom Playaz has been working through August Wilson’s “Century Cycle,” an extraordinary series of 10 plays depicting aspects of African American life in each decade of the 20th century.

The company, founded by Ayodele Nzinga, started the cycle in 2011 with “Gem of the Ocean,” set in the 1900s, and has moved all the way to the 1970s with “Jitney,” opening Friday, Dec. 26, at the Flight Deck in Oakland.

“As far as I can verify, we are doing something no one else on the planet has done,” Nzinga says. “We are doing the entire cycle with fully produced plays in chronological order. Other companies have done the plays but not in chronological order, and others have mixed full productions with staged readings.”

Nzinga, who grew up in the East Bay, was a self-described theater kid whose life took her in directions that she calls “destructive.”
--SF Gate

August Wilson's "Jitney," the eighth play in his 10-play cycle of plays about African-American life in the 20th century, is set in a Pittsburgh gypsy cab company. Ayodele Nzinga directs the Lower Bottom Playaz production at the Flight Deck in Oakland through Jan. 3. Photo courtesy of Lower Bottom Playaz Photo: Lower Bottom Playaz / ONLINE_YES

As we begin celebrations of the 50th Anniversary of the Black Arts Movement, we are honored and humbled to know the BAM revolution continues through writers such as August Wilson and playwright/director/producer Dr. Ayodele Nzinga, a student of mine since I taught theatre at Oakland's Laney College, 1981. Although August Wilson was one of the few acceptable Negroes on Broadway, his plays deal with the lower side of Black life in America. Perhaps we should say he delineates the life and times of the wretched of the earth colonized in these United Snakes of America. Now Wilson is not an Ed Bullins, my associate at Black Arts West Theatre, San Francisco, 1966, and at the New Lafayette Theatre in Harlem, NY, 1968--Bullins deals with the wretched of the wretched in his plays based on life in Philadelphia. August Wilson centers his dramas on life in Pittsburgh, PA, a little distance from Philly. Both men deal with the workers and non-workers, drunkards and murderers. They plays of both are virtual rites of passage, especially for North American African men. In Jitney, the setting is a taxi company in use by NAA's up and down the east coast, a way for men to hustle as unofficial taxis. It is a community about to be gentrified, but in those days the term was redevelopment or Negro Removal. The action centers around the coming closing of the building by the City and resistance to the closing by the men. In between we see the rite of passage of fathers and sons, manhood and womanhood training, especially male responsibility, but the wife of one character speaks of her duties and responsibilities as well as the couple purchase a house to move on up. 

In the language of August Wilson, I hear my writing style. Indeed, at another Wilson play, my daughter said, Dad, did you write this--it sounds like your style. In Jitney, I heard the ghetto speech rhythms--for sure, Wilson does not employ my use of socalled profanity, but the linguistic music is there for those who have ears. After the Jitney company manager is killed, the play ends with his recently released from prison son, answers the business phone, signaling the baton has passed to him, especially after a dramatic scene between father and son on male responsibility. 

Jitney is a must see. If you can, rush, run, fly downtown to the Flight Deck Theatre at 15th and Broadway, go pass the boarded up buildings from I Can't Breathe & Hands UP, Pants Up! and take a seat at the 2pm Sunday matinee. It runs next weekend as well.
--Marvin X

Dr. Ayodele Nzinga introducing the cast of August Wilson's Jitney. They are all outstanding performers.

Playwright August Wilson by James Gayles. We place Wilson in the Black Arts Movement tradition of focusing on the common Black people. Some say since he didn't rant and rave about white oppression, he was acceptable to whites, even a hit on Broadway. But however subtle, we cannot watch his plays and not see white supremacy in the deep structure.

SAVE THE DATE: February 7, Noon til 10pm, Laney College Celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Black Arts Movement, the most radical artistic and literary movment in American history. For more information, stay tuned to or call 510-200-4164.

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