'Piano Lesson' in tune


POSTED: Saturday, February 20, 2010

Leonard Piggee did Hawaii a great service in 2003 when he approached the Actors Group and suggested that at least one of the major community theater groups might occasionally broaden its repertoire to include works by major African-American playwrights.

TAG took on the commitment with its production of “;Two Trains Running”; in 2004 and has kept the faith each year since. In TAG's current production, “;The Piano Lesson,”; five remarkable actors — some previously unknown here — bring the Pulitzer Prize-winning August Wilson play to life in vivid style.

» William Ammons (Wining Boy) displays scene-stealing versatility as a sharp-witted footloose piano player.

» The actor currently known as Q (Boy Willie) brings edgy ominous shadings to his portrayal of an ambitious sharecropper in need of money. He also rocks it playing boogie-woogie on the titular piano.

» TAG veteran Curtis Duncan (Doaker) is in his element playing a decent hard-working man battling the ghosts of another place and time.

» Demetrius “;Pono”; Jones (Lymon) proves himself an effective comic figure and then goes deep in revealing an entirely different side of the “;country bumpkin”; he's playing.





        » Where: The Actors Group Theatre, 1116 Smith St.

» When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through March 7


» Cost: $20 general; $15 for seniors; $12 students, military and groups of 10 or more; Thursday Special, $10 for all


» Info: 722-6941 or click here


» Tamara Holyfield (Berniece) touches the heart as a strong but beleaguered woman torn between mourning a lost love and moving forward.

Ammons, Jones, Duncan and Q do their best work in scenes where the men interact among themselves with street slang and spontaneous show-stopping musical numbers. Ammons' physicality also gives an unforgettable jolt to one of the key dramatic moments in the show.

The year is 1936. Berniece Charles and her daughter are sharing a house with her uncle, Doaker Charles. Up from Mississippi comes her sharecropper brother with a truck load of watermelons and plans to sell the family piano. With the money Boy Willie has already accumulated and the money from the watermelons, and his half of the money from the piano, he'll be able to buy 100 acres of the land their ancestors worked as slaves.

But two of their ancestors were sold to pay for the piano, and the history of their family was carved into it. Doaker and one of his brothers stole the piano from its white owners in 1911. The authorities blamed Boy Charles, the father of Berniece and Boy Willie, and killed him and three other men but never recovered the piano.

The Charles family has had it ever since. No one has played it for years.

Boy Willie is aggressive and self-centered but makes a good point in questioning the logic of keeping a piano no one is using when he has the chance to elevate himself from sharecropper to landowner. However, playwright Wilson reveals enough of the family's history — incidents of petty crime, casual promiscuity and white racism — to suggest that even if Boy Willie is able to buy the land, he might not succeed as a farmer.