When someone looks like he has the world on his shoulders, there's always a story behind it. And in August Wilson's "Seven Guitars," Chicago audience members got the scoop on what made seven characters into the colorful people they've become.
"Seven Guitars" is being showcased from Wednesdays to Sundays at Court Theatre located at 5535 S. Ellis Ave., in Chicago. The play has been extended an extra week and is now showing from Sun., Jan. 19 to Sun., Feb. 9.*
In "Seven Guitars," audience members are introduced to seven characters from 1948 living or hanging outside of a tenement at Pittsburgh, Penn. They dance. They sing. They laugh. They do a whole lot of hanging out and enjoying each other's company. While tenants celebrate real-life stories, such as boxer Joe Louis' big boxing win, and cringe at breaking news stories, such as T.L. Hall selling fake insurance, they also deal with their own drama.
Floyd "Schoolboy" Barton (played by Kelvin Roston Jr.) is a blues guitarist with a hit song on the radio but not the money to show for it. After he finishes 90 days in jail (in his words, locked up for "worthlessness" accusations) and hinting that he'd burn down the jailhouse, he expects the money he arguably deserves from prison labor. His views are set on being famous, $47, getting his old guitar out of the pawnship and the .38 in his pocket. He's also got his eyes on rekindling his relationship with Vera.
Vera (played by Ebony Wimbs) is the ex-girlfriend of Floyd who was dumped for a woman named Pearl Brown. When Floyd didn't have the money to back up the hit, Pearl split. And Vera is making it none-too-easy for Floyd to dance back into her life.
Louise (played by Felicia P. Fields) is the landlord with a loud, playful personality who is as quick to give relationship advice as she is to do some major flirting, but don't forget the rent money. She doesn't play around. While Louise may initially look like the lonely instigator in the building, she's just grown content in the single world after a 12-year relationship with a man who felt the need to surprise her by leaving her with no apparent reason. All she wanted when he left was his pistol, and that she got.
Canewell (played by Jerod Haynes) may be the only character who can flirt more than Louise, although there are a few closer runners-up. He's the drummer who wasn't willing to play the shady music business games that Floyd endured but is as equally talented with percussion as Floyd is with strings. He also has a thing for Vera, which puts quite a strain on he and Floyd's friendship.
Red Carter (played by Ronald L. Conner) is mutual friends with both Canewell and Floyd. He's usually around for innocent flirting with anybody in a dress but is happier to announce the news that he has a new baby on the way.
Hedley (played by Allen Gilmore) has lived through trying times: segregation, skepticism over black people and medical care, and poverty. He's also ignoring Louise's advice to see a doctor so he won't die of tuberculosis. Coughing up blood, hustling random products for rent and yelling out unsolicited advice is on his to-do list everyday, and the other tenants have grown used to his rants.
But then Ruby, Louise's niece, comes to town. Ruby (played by Erynnn Mackenzie) is a sensual, attractive woman who knows it. Once her hips get to swinging and her eyes are set on a man, he'll follow behind her like a puppy. The first reaction from Floyd, Red Carter and Canewell prove it, but when Hedley takes it one step further, the audience finds out who Ruby's eyes are really set on. Problem is while she might be plotting on the new man, she's also pregnant and can't figure out who the father is between two other men (unseen characters Leroy who was killed by Elmore, both because of her).
In an apartment that already has enough problems, it'd be easy to think Ruby would make things worse. Not so much. Some of the characters are fighting their own demons and making their own situations worse. Some actions are valid, others are bizarre but it's up to the audience to make that final call.
The best part about "Seven Guitars" is the characters are so different that if you're not interested in one person, it's easy to get roped into the alternate stories from the other six. Hedley can be loud, indignant and over the top. But Canewell is charismatic, funny and rebellious. Floyd, although a womanizer, manages to make it easy to be sympathetic with his plight. Many women can relate to the love-him-or-leave-him love issues Vera is dealing with. Ruby, Red and Louise are good for comic relief when the other characters are in rare form.
The only downside to the play is while Hedley and Floyd seem to be going through the heaviest issues, Floyd is far more likeable -- even as a womanizer. On the other hand, Hedley is equal to the crazy guy at a random bus stop. His delivery makes him seem so wacko that it's easier to ignore him even when he does have great points. The ending of the play was predictable, which was a bit of a downer, but the individual stories were what kept the play interesting.
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* Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. on Wednesdays and Thursdays; 8 p.m. on Fridays; 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturdays; and 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on Sundays. Visit CourtTheatre.org for more details.
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