As a longtime fan of playwright August Wilson, the prospect of seeing any of his work—this one slipped passed me during Broadway (1996) and off-Broadway (2006) runs—was eagerly anticipated. The production of Seven Guitars mounted at Two River Theater in Red Bank for a three-week run, did not disappoint. In the hands of first-time director and Irvington resident Brandon J. Dirden, the performance poignantly captures the joys and sorrows that are the signatures of Wilson’s work.
Seven Guitars is the 1940s installment in Wilson’s 10-play series depicting African-American life in the Hills district of Pittsburgh during each decade of the 20th century.
Wilson’s tight, dialogue-packed stories require sharp attention as monologues and conversation sweep through at a lightning clip. Dirden—who made his professional acting debut in Wilson’s Joe Turner’s Come and Gone in 1990, and appeared in Wilson’s Jitney at Two River Theater in 2011/12—clearly hears the lyricism of Wilson’s words. While the whip-smart dialogue builds dramatic tension, the plot’s heavy themes (life, death, love, oppression, hope) are balanced by lighter moments, and music readily lifts the mood in this tale of a blues musician with great aspirations and many challenges.
Dirden’s Broadway credits include a role in Clybourne Park (2010) playing opposite his wife, Crystal Dickinson (She appears in Seven Guitars as Louise), and All the Way (2014), in which he starred as Martin Luther King Jr.
Seven Guitars runs through October 4 at Two River Theater, 732-345-1400 or tworivertheater.org.
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