Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: New Jersey / Delaware Valley

Thought-Provoking Seven Guitars
Brings August Wilson's Titanic Cycle to the 1940s

Two River Theater
Review by Bob Rendell

Also see Bob's review of Equivocation

Jason Dirden, Charlie Hudson III, and Kevin Mambo
Seven Guitars is a thoughtful and intellectually stimulating component of August Wilson's ten-play Century Cycle wherein each play depicts the status and culture of African Americans during a different decade of the 20th century. All but one of the plays depict the hardscrabble lives of residents of the Hill District of Pittsburgh.

Its events are depicted in a series of linear flashbacks depicting the last weeks in the life of emerging thirty-five year old blues guitarist-singer Floyd Barton whose friends and associates have gathered in the backyard of a Hill District boarding house just after his funeral. Floyd has just returned to Pittsburgh to reclaim his former fiancée Vera after abandoning her and running off to Chicago with another woman. As with most of the plays in the cycle, Wilson mixes in metaphysical elements which reflect the spirituality of African-American culture.

Interestingly, Wilson reminds us that the post World War II era was one in which there was progress and increased opportunity for African Americans. However, the bitter experience of abuse and discrimination which had brought ingrained distrust and crippled psyches had left many bereft of the ability to seize the moment.

Kevin Mambo captures all of the dichotomies in the persona of Floyd, a man whose talent, ambition and good intentions are mitigated by his impulsiveness, need for immediate gratification, and poor judgment. Christina Acosta Robinson movingly conveys the hurt and the hope that she experiences by having given her heart to Floyd. Jason Dirden (harmonica) as the cautious Canewell and Charlie Hudson III (drums) as the self-proclaimed ladies man Red Carter effectively portray Floyd's bandmates. Mambo, Dirden, and Carter are most effective in conveying the musical heartbeat of the play in their performance of the band's music. Brian D. Coats is powerful as he elder King Hedley, whose insight and sense of injustice have driven him to insane ideation. Crystal A. Dickinson as the friendly proprietress Louise and Brittany Bellizeare as her man-hungry niece Ruby ably round out the cast.

The production is heartfelt and earnest, but Brandon J. Dirden's direction lacks the precision and sustained brilliance that Rubin Santiago-Hudson brought to Two River's recent productions of Jitney and Two Trains Running, two other plays in August Wilson's cycle. The dialogue of the prologue was hard to follow at the performance I attended (words were whispered, delivered from downstage and while the speaker faced away from the audience as our ears were adjusting to the sound and, I would think, the sound engineer was adjusting the sound mix and level) while the cast of characters was quickly introduced and the situation introduced. This led to confusion among the audience. For when Floyd and his girlfriend Vera concluded a beautifully written resolution scene, directed with excess flourishes which suggested an imminent final curtain, several audience members broke for the exits thinking the play had concluded. For myself, I wondered for an instant whether I had misheard something in the prologue

The six mourners who have returned from the funeral may be the personification of the "six angels" whom Vera among others saw hovering at Floyd's funeral. Together with Floyd, they are the fine-tuned Seven Guitars who bring us the rich musical sound of August Wilson's poetic depiction of African Americans.

Seven Guitars continues performances (Evenings: Wednesday 7 pm; Thursday - Saturday 8 pm/ Matinees: Wednesday 1 pm; Saturday & Sunday 3 pm) through October 4, 2015, at Two River Theater, Joan and Robert Rechnitz Theatre, 21 Bridge Ave., Red Bank 07701; Box Office: 732-345-1400 / online:

Seven Guitars by August Wilson; directed by Brandon J. Dirden

Louise………………………Crystal A. Dickinson
Red Carter…………………...Charlie Hudson III
Canewell……………………………Jason Dirden
Vera………………..Christina Acosta Robinson
Hedley……………………………..Brian D. Costs
Floyd Barton……………………….Kevin Mambo
Ruby………………………….Brittany Bellizeare

Photo: T. Charles Erickson

- Bob Rendell

Privacy Policy