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Playcrafters Present "The Piano Lesson"

Playcrafters will offer the second weekend of "The Piano Lesson" July 23-25 at 4950 35th Ave., Moline
Playcrafters will offer the second weekend of "The Piano Lesson" July 23-25 at 4950 35th Ave., Moline

The latest play by the Playcrafters Barn Theatre is set in the 1930s, but holds forceful lessons for our fractious times today.

Directed by Kermit Thomas of Moline, part of August Wilson’s epic “American Century Cycle,” in “The Piano Lesson,” it’s 1936, and Boy Willie arrives in Pittsburgh from the South in a truck loaded with watermelons to sell. He has an opportunity to buy some land down home, but he has to come up with the money quickly. He wants to sell an old piano that has been in his family for generations, but he shares ownership with his sister and it sits in her living room. She has already rejected several offers because the antique piano is covered with incredible carvings detailing the family’s rise from slavery. Boy Willie tries to persuade his stubborn sister that the past is past, but she is more formidable than he anticipated.

Kermit Thomas of Moline directed "The Piano Lesson."
Kermit Thomas of Moline directed "The Piano Lesson."

“The Piano Lesson” (which won the 1990 Pulitzer Prize for Drama) follows the
lives of the Charles family and the heirloom instrument is decorated with designs carved by an enslaved ancestor. The brother, Boy Willie, is a sharecropper who wants to sell the piano to buy land, but his sister, Berniece, remains emphatic about keeping the piano, which shows the carved faces of their great-grandfather's wife and son during days of their enslavement.

Kermit Thomas, a 52-year-old Texas native, has acted at Playcrafters and New
Ground Theatre. This is his first time directing and while Thomas originally
wanted to direct August Wilson’s “Fences,” “The Piano Lesson” was among the
Playcrafters postponed shows from 2020. Fred Harris, Jr. is one of just two from
the original 2020 cast, and he played the lead Troy in “Fences” at Playcrafters, in
July 2010. Thomas is a big Wilson fan, and the “American Century series.”

“It goes over the way Blacks evolved in the 20th century and how they went -- like this one, ‘The Piano Lesson,’ shows how they went through the Great Depression and just the strength of the family and the history and just remembering the history.”

Wilson's Pittsburgh Cycle, also often referred to as his Century Cycle, consists of
10 plays — nine of which are set in Pittsburgh's Hill District (the other being set in Chicago) -- an African-American neighborhood that takes on a mythic literary

Wilson says the plays are each set in a different decade and aim to sketch the Black experience in the 20th century and “raise consciousness through theater” and echo “the poetry in the everyday language of Black America."

“The Piano Lesson” premiered in 1987 at Yale Repertory Theatre, and in 1995 was made into a TV movie starring Charles S. Dutton and Alfre Woodard. Last year, it was announced that Denzel Washington is planning to direct a new film adaptation for Netflix with Samuel L. Jackson and John David Washington.

Thomas is a 27-year veteran of the U.S. Army, retiring in 2016 at the Rock Island
Arsenal. He plans to move back to the Dallas area and run for Congress in 2022.
He’s a single parent, and his daughters will attend his alma mater, Prairie View
A&M University, outside of Houston.

Thomas loves his “Piano Lesson” cast, and the help that the cast and crew have
given him as a new director.

“I think we just all fit together. It's coming together and they all just work very
hard. Then I also like the part where they talk about the legacies of the family and the things that were left to him and in this case, the piano and the struggles that they used to deal with it. But at the end, it all just comes together and just shows how we as a culture going through the century, that everything just kind of comes together as we evolve as Black America, through the 20th century.”

The play shows parallels with what America has gone through the past couple

“Absolutely -- just this strength that we have to come together, and we can have
our differences and disagreements. But when it's all said and done, like that last
powerful scene when Avery is blessing the house and the piano, and everyone in
the house just came together and that certain calm just came over the house and Boy Willie and Berniece -- who were at each other's throats throughout the entire play -- how they just resolved the issues and let that calm take over and just make rational decisions…But right now, let's take this calm and embrace it, and enjoy it and just go on for right now Just have everybody in a safe place.”

Wilson shows how a major disagreement can be resolved – which is also a lesson
for our current hyper-partisan, polarized time, when it seems hard for the nation to agree on universal issues.

“We're gonna to have to take all that chaos and come to a calm and come to a
resolution. And it’s not what's good for Democrats or what's good for Republicans, but what's good for America. And we have to be willing to negotiate and make sacrifices and give up this to get that. But what we want is, what's best for America.”

Performances at 4950 35th Ave., Moline, will be 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday,
and 3 p.m. Sunday. General admission is $15, and senior/military admission is $13. For details and tickets, visit Playcrafters.com.

Formerly the arts and entertainment reporter for The Dispatch/Rock Island Argus and Quad-City Times, Jonathan Turner now writes freelance for WVIK and QuadCities.com. He has experience writing for daily newspapers for 32 years and has expertise across a wide range of subject areas, including government, politics, education, the arts, economic development, historic preservation, business, and tourism. He loves writing about music and the arts, as well as a multitude of other topics including features on interesting people, places, and organizations. He has a passion for accompanying musicals, singers, choirs, and instrumentalists. He even wrote his own musical based on The Book of Job, which premiered at Playcrafters in 2010. He wrote a 175-page history book about downtown Davenport, which was published by The History Press in 2016. Turner was honored in 2009 to be among 24 arts journalists nationwide to take part in a 10-day fellowship offered by the National Endowment for the Arts in New York City on classical music and opera, based at Columbia University’s journalism school.