Theater Talk: August Wilson’s JITNEY

Theater Talk: August Wilson’s JITNEY


>>ANNOUNCER: Coming up on “Theater Talk”…>>SANTIAGO-HUDSON: August was very sensitive man. And so, particularly if it came to disrespecting him and treating him — And he mentions, in a lot of his plays, “I didn’t want to be just another N-word.” And he will not — did not allow anyone to treat him any less than human. He demanded that, and there was times I had to keep him from going to jail, and there were times he had to keep me from going to jail. [ Laughter ]>>ANNOUNCER: “Theater Talk” is made possible in part by The CUNY TV Foundation. [ Jazz music plays ]>>RIEDEL: Do you find that, August, when you have a play opening on Broadway, that you feel, somehow, you have to deliver on these expectations?>>WILSON: Well, no, I think the expectations are the same. You want to do good play work, whether you’re doing off-Broadway or on Broadway. The difference on Broadway is — you got 1,000 people — You got 1,000 seats to sell every night. So you get 500 people in the theater, which would fill most of the off-Broadway theaters, and the theater’s half empty. And people look around and they go, “Nobody came.” [ Laughter ]>>HASKINS: From New York City, this is “Theater Talk.” I’m Susan Haskins.>>RIEDEL: And I’m Michael Riedel of the New York Post. Now, Susan, off all the great August Wilson plays, that 10 series of plays about the African-American experience, the one play which happens to be my favorite, a play called “Jitney,” has never been done on Broadway before until now. You and I saw an off-Broadway production several years ago.>>HASKINS: Many years ago.>>RIEDEL: And, finally, it is getting its due in an absolutely sensational production at the Manhattan Theatre Club, the Samuel J. Friedman. “Jitney,” by August Wilson, directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson, who has a long association with August Wilson. Welcome to “Theater Talk,” Ruben.>>SANTIAGO-HUDSON: Thank you. Thanks for having me.>>RIEDEL: It stars one of our regulars here on “Theater Talk,” John Douglas Thompson. Sensational lead performance.>>THOMPSON: Thank you.>>RIEDEL: Supported, brilliantly, by Brandon J. Dirden, who — I must compliment you. I thought you were a terrific Martin Luther King in “All the Way,” with Bryan Cranston, a few seasons ago.>>DIRDEN: Thank you.>>RIEDEL: Welcome, all, to “Theater Talk.” Ruben, were you responsible for getting “Jitney” to Broadway, in some ways? Have you been pushing this play to have its Broadway debut?>>SANTIAGO-HUDSON: Yes, you could say I was the catalyst, but it took a lot of people to get it here.>>RIEDEL: Mm-hmm.>>SANTIAGO-HUDSON: But I was the driving force, and I never would let it settle or die or disappear. And, as anyone knows me, I can be very persistent, ’cause I’m very passionate about not just having it there ’cause it was August, but having it there ’cause it was a great play and it was a time that we really needed it. So, after 11 years, we found the right theater, we found the right producers, and we’re on Broadway and we’re having a great time.>>RIEDEL: John, you play Becker, who is running this car-service operation.>>THOMPSON: Yes.>>RIEDEL: And, like all of August’s plays, it’s a great ensemble, wonderful cast of people, although you are sort of at the center of it. What is your character trying to keep together in this world that August has created for us?>>THOMPSON: I see the character Becker as kind of being in the midst of some sort of existential crisis. He’s trying to keep himself together, but keep the community together and keep the people that he’s working with together and keep his life together, in a sense. So, he’s one of those characters, for me, that feels like King Lear, in a way, almost Shakespearean inside.>>RIEDEL: The ground is shifting out from under him.>>THOMPSON: Yeah, under his feet. Then, also, you know, I have my son — that Brandon terrifically plays — coming out of prison and I have the issue of the urban renewal that’s going to be addressing…>>BECKER: The city’s fixin’ to board up the place come the 1st of the month. They’re gonna tear it down. They’re gonna tear the whole block down.>>They’re gonna tear the whole neighborhood down.>>They’re supposed to build some houses. That’s what they need to do.>>THOMPSON: So, I kind of find him being this kind of character who — His evolution is somewhat arrested and he finds — He goes on by becoming a revolutionary, if you will, by deciding to take on the urban renewal, deal with his son, and move forward in his life.>>RIEDEL: Well, the interesting thing with the father and the son, though — Because he deals with him for a moment and then says, “That’s it.” Because you’ve been in jail for 20 years.>>DIRDEN: That’s right.>>RIEDEL: For murder, we can say. We don’t want to give too much away. And you’re coming back to try to have a relationship with your father, but he’s having none of it.>>BECKER: So…you’re doing all right, huh?>>BOOSTER: Yeah, I don’t know. See, I’ve been looking around. I don’t know what to think. People going everywhere, all up and down and dogs and cats, airplanes. It’s gonna take me a while to get used to things.>>BECKER: So, what you gonna do with the rest of your life now that you done ruined it?>>BOOSTER: Hey.>>DIRDEN: Take a look at a guy like Booster and his past and his present, and what’s remarkable about him — he goes against so many of our notions and stereotypes of what it is to be a convict — right? — or why we commit crimes in the first place. And what are we like coming out of, you know, the prison system for the last 20 years? And I think what August gives us is someone who has not been beaten, probably full of more hope than anyone else in this play, because he’s starting from scratch. He’s saying, “I’ve paid my debt. I owed you this. I gave it to you. Now I’m free.”>>RIEDEL: Ruben, where does this play fall in August’s history as a writer?>>SANTIAGO-HUDSON: It was the first play that he wrote…>>RIEDEL: It’s the very first play that he wrote.>>SANTIAGO-HUDSON: …you know, that was –>>RIEDEL: Before any of us had ever heard of August Wilson.>>SANTIAGO-HUDSON: Yeah. That he actually thought could be a play. He said, “I’m a playwright. Let me write a play.” He had written other plays, but they were so fragmented and just not structurally sound, and characters weren’t developed. So, you know, this was his first real foray into playwriting, and it ended up being, like, a very short play, but it had great substance and it took him some time, particularly right after “Seven Guitars.”>>RIEDEL: Which you were in.>>SANTIAGO-HUDSON: Yes. A decent amount of this play was things cut from “Seven Guitars.”>>RIEDEL: Really?>>SANTIAGO-HUDSON: Yeah.>>RIEDEL: So he was assembling this play from parts of other plays and whatnot?>>SANTIAGO-HUDSON: Mainly “Seven Guitars.”>>RIEDEL: Huh. Interesting.>>SANTIAGO-HUDSON: And “Seven Guitars” also was scattered a little bit into other plays, as well.>>HASKINS: So, he wrote a short version of “Jitney,” then “Seven Guitars” came along, and then he made “Jitney” longer by bringing in discarded parts of “Seven Guitars,” right?>>SANTIAGO-HUDSON: He was such an incredible writer that you can’t discard this kind of writing.>>HASKINS: No, no. Right.>>SANTIAGO-HUDSON: So, I didn’t know that when I was playing, ’cause most of what he cut was my stuff, was Canewell. So that put a wedge in between us for a long time. [ Laughter ] And he reminded me, after the Tonys, “I didn’t cut your Tony.” [ Laughter ] So, I’ll never forget he said that. But the thing is — the material was so fine, and I never knew what happened to it until I went to see “Jitney.” And I was sitting there with my wife. I said, “He can’t say that. I said that.” And she said, “Honey, you said it in Chicago at the Goodman, but you didn’t say it on Broadway. But you didn’t have those lines.” “You’re right.”>>RIEDEL: Had you worked with August before, when –>>THOMPSON: Just once before. I had — I did a production of “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone” out at the Mark Taper in Los Angeles that Phylicia had directed.>>RIEDEL: Phylicia Rashad?>>THOMPSON: Phylicia Rashad had directed it. And I played Herald Loomis. That was my only experience with August. And I had been trying to work with Ruben for, I would say, personally, for over a decade.>>SANTIAGO-HUDSON: Who would want to work with me? That is such a compliment, man.>>THOMPSON: And it didn’t even have to be Wilson. I just wanted to be in a production that he was directing. So, we finally met up at the gala for –>>SANTIAGO-HUDSON: Shakespeare in the Park.>>THOMPSON: Shakespeare in the Park. And we talked. And, so, he gave me an audition. And so I came in and auditioned for this play. And I didn’t think I would be a Becker. That’s not how I saw myself.>>RIEDEL: Who did you think you would play?>>THOMPSON: I don’t know. I would have played Cigar Annie. [ Laughter ] I would have played even one of the characters that’s not in the play that’s referred to.>>HASKINS: Out by the cab, right?>>THOMPSON: Yeah. I just wanted to be in it.>>SANTIAGO-HUDSON: …hasn’t died. [ Laughter ]>>THOMPSON: Yeah. Hasn’t died. I just didn’t see myself as a Becker, but I was happy to go in for the audition. And the scene that I had to audition with, essentially, was the father-son scene with Booster. And, lo and behold, when I walk in, there’s Brandon. And we’re reading together as Becker and Booster.>>SANTIAGO-HUDSON: I had to call him. He was headed back to New Jersey, but he got stalled with a friend. And he had left the –>>THOMPSON: I left the audition.>>SANTIAGO-HUDSON: And he had given a great audition, and it really surprised me, because I didn’t necessarily see him as a Becker. And, to be honest with you, it was my wife — It was Jeannie who said, “Did you ever consider John Douglas Thompson? He does great work.” I said, “As a Becker?” But, you know, I said, “Baby, that’s an interesting idea,” because I don’t want to go for anybody that looks like Paul Butler, who was — You know, he really put some footprints in the cement there, you know? But he was a very vulnerable, sensitive man. And then I said, “I got to get Paul out of my mind.” And then I mentioned it to Lynne Meadow, and she said, “Oh, John would be fabulous.” He comes in, he does the audition, and he’s fabulous, but I need to see more. And I said, “Lynne, I need to see more, so let me think about it.” She said, “Well, call him.” I said, “He’s in rehearsal at the Public.” She said, “I don’t care. I’ll send a car for him. I’ll go down and walk and get him.” Lynne can be aggressive. So, Lynne says, “I want him here.”>>RIEDEL: The only car you’re getting at the Manhattan Theatre Club.>>THOMPSON: [ Laughs ]>>SANTIAGO-HUDSON: And, as I’m talking, Nancy Piccione, the casting director, is texting the stage manager. “James, when is he done? Is he out?” I said, “Leave the man alone. He is in a rehearsal.” Next thing, they said, “He’s on his way.” So, I said, “Let me call Brandon. Brandon, where are you?” “I’m ready to go to Jersey.” I said, “Don’t go!” So, Brandon walks in, and when these two started, me and Lynne were looking at each other like… I don’t think he got — He couldn’t get a block away before we were like, “That’s it.” And that’s the thing about August Wilson. It’s not the one person who’s the — It’s the collaboration and the chemistry between the cast and ensemble. And they hit it, because Booster — One of the things I noticed — that Booster respected his daddy, but he wasn’t afraid of him.>>RIEDEL: Right.>>SANTIAGO-HUDSON: And he wasn’t afraid to — Brandon somehow — Other people he had auditioned with he seemed to revere a little more than he should. I don’t know why. But he gave John respect, but he also demanded respect back by the way he stood his ground. And it was not disrespectful, but it was like, “See me, dad.” And I was like, “This is incredible.”>>RIEDEL: You must have felt that happening in the audition with him.>>DIRDEN: You know, the thing what I think is so special about John and this role is that there is this quiet dignity to Becker that he never tries to lead with or impose, he just has. And that is something that is to be revered, to be respected. My father is like that.>>SANTIAGO-HUDSON: That’s — I got to add this. That’s one of the things I immediately noticed about John. He reminded me of Brandon’s father, who’s an actor, as well, in Houston.>>RIEDEL: Oh. You know his father.>>SANTIAGO-HUDSON: Yeah. Oh, yeah. But he reminded me of him — his skin tone, his color, his stature, his presence. And that was something magical in itself, but, still, he had to deliver as an actor. You can remind me all day of Denzel and you can’t act like Denzel, get out the way. So, he brought that.>>DIRDEN: You know, and I will be honest — And it was a hard play to rehearse. It was a hard scene to rehearse.>>RIEDEL: Why?>>DIRDEN: Because you’re talking about a history there for two people who basically just met — And, for all intents and purposes, John and I hadn’t worked on anything before. There’s a shorthand that comes with Becker and Booster that a lot is unsaid and a lot that needs to be unpacked. And you can’t expect that all to be there on day one. And it just takes toiling and a lot of grinding it out and a lot of digging and unearthing to find that richness. And I would say we’re still finding it every night.>>RIEDEL: So, you were just being patient with him, waiting for him to come along?>>THOMPSON: No.>>RIEDEL: Up to your level?>>THOMPSON: When I auditioned with — I was terrified. To be honest with you, when I auditioned with Brandon, I was terrified. I’d seen Brandon in two other productions — A brilliant “Piano Lesson” at Signature that Ruben also directed, and also a brilliant “Ma Rainey,” which was down at Two Rivers that Brandon also starred in. And he was fantastic, I mean, just fabulous. So I felt I was in the room with, certainly, the foremost interpreter of August Wilson’s work and also probably the foremost actor of August Wilson’s work, in my mind. So I was terrified. And the moment that Brandon opened his mouth and started singing those words of August Wilson, I said, “I’m not gonna get this audition. He’s gonna eat my lunch. I’m not gonna get this audition.” [ Laughter ] Seriously. No, no. This is… But then there was a portion — I just said, “Okay, let me just throw it all in there. Let me just throw it all in there and just be present with Brandon and let’s read this scene, and if I walk out of here without a job, at least I’ve given it my all.” And then it kind of clicked. But Brandon’s totally right. In rehearsals, we hadn’t worked together. I know we have a mutual deep respect for one another. We’re still unpacking the scene, even last night. New things are happening all the time because there is this 20-year history — longer than that — 39-year history between the father and the son. And I know, when we were in rehearsals, we would find certain things, then lose them, then find something else, then lose that, then go back and find what we lost, and move forward. And I remember Ruben saying to us — He’s like, “You know, you lost what you found in the rehearsal room. When we moved from the rehearsal to the stage, you lost a little something, and he was right. We did.>>HASKINS: What were you talking about there?>>SANTIAGO-HUDSON: Well, you know, it also was difficult — Not difficult, but challenging to direct the scene, because it’s a very emotional scene. So, I would go to them, as a director and and actor, and I would say, “Do you guys want to go at it again? Do you want it again? Do you want to rest? Do you want to think about it?” They’d be, “No, no. Give it to us again.” But I would only give it to them twice. Then I would be like, “That’s it.” You know, I didn’t want any more, because it’s so gut-wrenching, and these — they don’t know how to hold back. There’s never – Not in rehearsal, not in a table read. They do not hold back. And so I have to — Just like having a champion horse or something, and you can’t keep running him at full speed all the time, ’cause something’s gonna pop. So I just say, “No, that’s enough. We’re gonna go home,” you know? But when we got to the rehearsal room, because of this cavernous space — We were in this — I mean, the theater. Cavernous compared to this room, where it was intimate and they can actually talk. Then, all of a sudden, the actor things have to come out that you have to project a little better. You have more distance. You have this hollow space.>>DIRDEN: Sight lines.>>SANTIAGO-HUDSON: So, and then I’m blocking you, too, to get you in the best light.>>RIEDEL: Technical stuff.>>SANTIAGO-HUDSON: Yeah, I got to get you in the best light. So, finally, I just said, “Forget blocking. Forget blocking. Find him. Communication is essential. There’s no blocking. Nothing’s wrong.” And I told my lighting designer, who’s brilliant — Jane Cox is absolutely the cat’s meow, as they say. But I said, “Jane, you’re gonna have to find them, ’cause I got to let them go,” because they’re so good, they just started dancing off each other. And whoever needed the upper hand would find it. “No, you don’t do this to me.” And they would come at each other and back. And Jane’s just back there just lighting it. And then I said, “Freeze it.” [ Laughter ] “Keep that.”>>THOMPSON: “Lock it in.”>>SANTIAGO-HUDSON: “Whatever that was –“>>RIEDEL: It’s the meat and potatoes of how the theater works.>>SANTIAGO-HUDSON: But, you know, every scene is not like that. You know, sometimes, I can set things, you know, and I’m a more free kind of director, for the most part, but I try to make sure that I put — As far as blocking, that I put my actors in the light so the audience can receive them in the strongest way. So I want to make sure — But I don’t let them perform out to the audience, as you see. It’s all communication. Sometime, you get some back. And I’m not afraid of that as a director. But I said, “What’s most important is you communicate.” The audience is gonna break that velvet rope to get in, ’cause they see the event going on.>>RIEDEL: Exactly.>>SANTIAGO-HUDSON: So make the event happen and let the audience find their way in.>>RIEDEL: Are you almost like a conductor of August? I feel it’s an orchestra, that, you know, you’re bringing in the light, little fun melody here just before the darker pitch up.>>SANTIAGO-HUDSON: August does that. I got to find it and I have to reveal it. I have to recognize it. I have to honor it.>>RIEDEL: Mm-hmm.>>SANTIAGO-HUDSON: But I can say things to them sometimes, simply like, “Is that the song? Is that the song that he wrote?” And that’s all I have to say to them. These are very smart guys. Or, one time, John said a line, because it was not a line that he had probably said a lot in his life, and it’s written a certain way, “Studying.” You know, “I didn’t ask you whether you were studying him” is how — But black people say, “Studin’.” “I ain’t ask you whether you were studin’ him.” So, all I had to say was, “You know better than that.”>>THOMPSON: [ Laughs ]>>SANTIAGO-HUDSON: When he said — I just, “You know better than that.” And… I didn’t have to say, “This is the way you say that.” It was done. But it’s because you have real people from the South there. John’s not from the South. So, you have Andre Holland from Alabama, Texas. You’ve got Michael Potts — South Carolina. You got all these — Harvy — Mississippi through Chicago. You know, they’re real — And that’s August’s rhythms. So they come easier to him — to them. So, John is such a student of the game, and he works his own way. He works his own way. As a director, I have to find out how to be effective and supportive in the way they work and try to allow them the opportunity — I have producers on my show that are saying, “He shouldn’t say that. He should know this by now. He should do this by now. That’s not powerful enough.” I’m like…>>RIEDEL: [ Laughs ]>>SANTIAGO-HUDSON: …”You know, I’ll tell him in a minute.” You know, I’m not gonna do that to my actors. You’d be surprised. I said, “I’m not doing that to my actors. I’m not saying that to them and I’m not demanding that.” Now, fire me if you have to.” But I had a great partner in Lynne.>>RIEDEL: The producer. Yeah, I’ve met her.>>SANTIAGO-HUDSON: Even though she hadn’t been an actor, even if she didn’t agree, she said, “Okay, Ruben, I trust you.” And that’s what I needed. Because, on certain things, I’m not gonna do to actors I would never have a director do to me. And I’ve had directors do it to me, and I have to say…>>HASKINS: Like what?>>HASKINS: You know, tell me where I have to be at a certain time or what I have to do onstage.>>HASKINS: The marks you have to hit. Is that what you’re saying?>>SANTIAGO-HUDSON: Not the marks. I don’t mind the marks. I’m gonna hit the marks that you want me to hit. But tell me why I came into a room. You know, “You came in here to eat.” “No, I didn’t come in here to eat.” And you never have to tell me why I walk in a room. I won’t walk. You’ll be saying, “Well, Ruben’s supposed to enter, isn’t he?” I’ll be standing outside the door. If I don’t know why I’m coming in, I’m not coming in the room. That’s just the kind of actor I am. So before I walk in that room, I know just what I want. I don’t know how I’m gonna get it and I don’t know if I’m gonna get it, but I know how I’m gonna try to get it. And then the information I get in the room changes everything. But when a director tells me, “This is why you’re there –” Even a writer. I’ve had a writer tell me, “That’s not why you’re doing that. I wrote it. He’s doing it.” I said, “But, yeah, baby, you wrote the song, but I got to play it on my violin. And my violin’s gonna play just the song you wrote, but my strings –” Sometimes, people have thicker strings. Some people have lighter strings. The way I stroke my bow. But guess — Them notes are gonna come out, but let me play the music. And that’s what I let them do is play the music. And, sometimes, people want to interfere, and I say, “I’m not doing that.” You’d be surprised.>>RIEDEL: Does he ever crack the whip, though, John?>>THOMPSON: No. I mean, I’m glad you’re keeping all this away from us. [ Laughter ] I certainly wouldn’t want to know. But, I mean, I think Ruben’s truly an actor’s director. You know what I mean?>>RIEDEL: ‘Cause he’s an actor.>>THOMPSON: ‘Cause he’s an actor. And with this material — and he’s right — some of the aspects of these plays I’m not as familiar with some of my fellow castmates. And I’ll tell you what — I just watched. I mean, being in rehearsal was like being in with superheroes. It was like being with superheroes, ’cause all of these actors are absolutely brilliant. And you’ve seen our show.>>RIEDEL: They’re great. They’re terrific.>>THOMPSON: And I would just sit and wa– And every day, something amazing would happen.>>RIEDEL: Did you feel behind, in some way, from these guys?>>THOMPSON: Not behind. I just felt like, “I have a lot of cat–” Not catching up, but I have learning to do. And I would just listen. Ruben will tell you — I didn’t really, like, come at you with like, “I want to do this as an actor” or whatever and tell him to do me things, to tell me what to do as an actor from a director’s perspective. I just listened to him and I watched the actors perform.>>SANTIAGO-HUDSON: But if he asked for things –>>THOMPSON: You would have given them.>>SANTIAGO-HUDSON: I said, “Take that.” You know, if he says, “I want to have — You mind if I have it?” Yeah, you can have that.>>THOMPSON: Yeah, I have a couple props and things that I wanted to help create the character with. It was very difficult for me, sometimes, in the scene with Brandon, because even when we auditioned, I ended up watching him as an audience member for the first minute or so, before I clicked back in as an actor with him. He’s so good at singing that song that you want to listen to him, you know, and watch him. So, I was doing that at the audition, and sometimes when we were rehearsing, I would say, “God, this guy is so good” that it would take me out of the scene, because I would be an audience member, not Becker.>>HASKINS: And he’s condemning you.>>THOMPSON: Yeah. And he’s condemning me. You know, so, it took me a while to kind of get on the wheel, but I will say, to Ruben’s testament, that he really let us play, you know, and gave us the parameters of what this scene is about. It’s a father and son. And then, for me, the rest of the work, I had to think about my own father, my relationship with my father. I know it’s written extremely culturally specific, but I think it’s extremely universal.>>RIEDEL: Totally.>>THOMPSON: And people see it — mothers and daughters, fathers and daughters, mothers and sons. They kind of see this relationship.>>DIRDEN: You know, John talks about learning. And I’ve been speaking the words of August Wilson over 25 years and I still learn every day.>>HASKINS: You were 11 in your first August Wilson play? Did you tell me that?>>DIRDEN: Oh, yeah.>>RIEDEL: What was it?>>DIRDEN: It was “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone,” the young boy, Rueben. The youngest male that August ever wrote, and hopefully I can live long enough to play the oldest one he ever wrote.>>RIEDEL: Now, Ruben, you knew August really well. Can you tell us a little bit about him, just hanging out with him, being around him?>>SANTIAGO-HUDSON: August was the consummate storyteller. And when he had an idea, his plays kind of, like, bloomed in him telling the story to someone else.>>RIEDEL: So he had to talk it out to people.>>SANTIAGO-HUDSON: Yeah. And he can do all the characters and he can read all the characters. He wasn’t a great actor, but he could do all these characters. So, August and I would have conversations. And we would have breakfast, lunch, and dinner in the same restaurant. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner.>>RIEDEL: You had this here in New York?>>SANTIAGO-HUDSON: No. In Seattle.>>RIEDEL: Oh, Seattle. Yeah.>>SANTIAGO-HUDSON: Some time at Edison. But he would say, “Man, you got to come up here. I got to tell you this story. I’m writing a role for you.” “When can I come up?”>>RIEDEL: [ Laughs ]>>SANTIAGO-HUDSON: But August would start talking. You know, we talked a lot more than just plays, because we were similar in a lot of ways, persona-wise, how stubborn we were, how passionate we were. And he revealed a lot of things to me and a lot of things I’m sure he did not reveal to me and maybe revealed to somebody else. But he showed me a note that he wrote from my first audition for him, and it said, “Same music I have. Same song.” And he remembered that. I didn’t get that role. He gave it to a young man named Laurence Fishburne, who won a Tony, so he made a good choice. [ Laughter ] Later on, he gave Ruben a role, and I was blessed to also win a Tony, too. But it was the timing. Everything a time. But August was, like, the kind of guy that — He looked like he wasn’t approachable. You say you ran into August. You met him a lot of times.>>RIEDEL: I used to see him at a coffee shop, the Edison. I’d sit and chat with him.>>SANTIAGO-HUDSON: If you wanted to talk to August, just get a cigarette, ’cause he’s gonna be in there with a cigarette. And he would start talking to you. And I’ve had so many people say, “You know, I didn’t know that was August Wilson. He just started talking to me for an hour. And he was always encouraging you. But he was a very sensitive man. And so, particularly if it came to disrespecting him and treating him — And he mentions, in a lot of his plays, “I didn’t want to be just another N-word.” And he will not — did not allow anyone to treat him any less than human. And he demanded that, and there was times I had to keep him from going to jail, and there were times he had to keep me from going to jail. [ Laughter ] We had that bond. And we ended up going to get something to eat or get a cup of coffee, you know? But he said, “Man, no. Come on. Come on with me.” And I would do the same with him. But August’s main — The thing I noticed most about him is the sensitivity and how he was adamant about the humanity and the wholeness in us as human beings, us African-American people as human beings. And that was — He was just — He wanted that to be, you know, the thing that he was remembered by, a lot of times, that he made us whole. He gave us an opportunity to be whole. We were whole, but he gave us an opportunity and a platform to reveal how intricate and marvelous and magnificent and disdainful black people — and wonderful and joyful that we are. They’re human issues.>>RIEDEL: Was he ever around any of the shows that you did of his? I’m just curious –>>THOMPSON: No, no. When I did “Joe Turner,” that was 2012, I believe, in Los Angeles. And that was actually — 25 years prior, that was the play that I saw when I was a young executive, working at a computer corporation that I saw that made me want to be an actor.>>RIEDEL: Yeah. Where did you see it?>>THOMPSON: I saw it at Yale Rep.>>RIEDEL: You were a business guy.>>THOMPSON: Yeah.>>RIEDEL: Then you went to see “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone” and –>>THOMPSON: I went on a date — I got stood up on a date to go see a play. I went to see the play “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone” at Yale. And I knew, right then and there, that I wanted to be an actor.>>RIEDEL: Well, the production is terrific. “Jitney,” directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson, starring John Douglas Thompson and Brandon J. Dirden, at Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, Manhattan Theatre Club. I urge you to see it. It’s the only August Wilson play that had not been done Broadway, until now. And you’re not gonna find a better production. Guys, thanks a lot for being our guests here on “Theater Talk.”>>THOMPSON: Thank you very much.>>BOOSTER: I’ve been thinking about my life and all the things that you did for me, all the things you gave me, all the things that you taught me, all the things –>>BECKER: Everything I give you, you threw away. You ain’t got nothing now. You got less than the day you was born. Then, you had some dignity, some innocence. You ain’t got nothing now. You took and you threw it all away. You’re 39 years old and you ain’t got nothing.>>BOOSTER: No, Pop. You’re wrong. I may have lost some things, I may have missed some things, but that don’t mean I got nothing.>>BECKER: You ain’t got nothing, boy.>>BOOSTER: Well, since we talking about what we got, what you got, Pop? You the boss of a jitney station.>>BECKER: I am the boss of a jitney station. I’m a deacon down at the church. Got me a little house. It ain’t much, but it’s mine. I worked 27 years at the mill, got me a pension. I got a wife. I got respect. I could walk anywhere and hold my head up high. What I ain’t got is a son that did me honor.>>ANNOUNCER: Our thanks to the friends of “Theater Talk” for their significant contribution to this production. “Theater Talk” is made possible in part by The Frederick Loewe Foundation… The Cory & Bob Donnalley Charitable Fund… The Noel Coward Foundation… Cary J. Frieze… The Dorothy Strelsin Foundation… and The New York City Department of Cultural Affairs.>>ANNOUNCER: We welcome your questions or comments for “Theater Talk.” Thank you.

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