Many of the actors in “Jitney” have been a part of previous installments in the “Century Cycle,” though this is the first to be performed at the newly opened Flight Deck theater and the troupe is reportedly excited to be in the larger, more accommodating space, a modular, black box-style performance space with folding chairs set up on tiered rows. Refreshments are available in the foyer before the show and during intermission.
Adimu Madyun, who has appeared in each installment of the series thus far, is Becker, a middle-aged widower who operates his taxi service out of a small garage space in the heart of one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city. The audience is allowed to eavesdrop on the conversations that take place there in between the drivers’ “trips,” thereby learning about each man’s personal history and the circumstances that led each to work there.Turnbo (Reginald Wilkins) is easy to peg. He is the oldest among the drivers, outspoken and meddlesome. He doesn’t hold back when he has something to say about how his cohorts are running their lives. He irritates them to no end, but sometimes his jabs end up facilitating positive change. He may not be lovable, but he keeps it real.
Youngblood (played Friday by Tory Scroggins) is the quiet one, a serious guy with a bit of a short temper, much more difficult to read. Only his girlfriend Rena (Lorraine Nico Buchanan) seems able to center him. When she first comes by the garage to see him, she is concerned about his apparent secrecy, but even more eager to solidify their relationship.
Youngblood and Turnbo clash dramatically. Turnbo jumps to conclusions about Youngblood’s suspicious behavior and Youngblood doesn’t have the patience to tolerate the old fool — but theirs is not the most heated relationship. In Act Two, Becker’s son Clarence, aka Booster, has finished a 20-year prison term and stops in to say hello to his dad, who never visited while he was incarcerated. Booster comes in hoping to make amends, letting his father know he doesn’t hold a grudge, but he soon discovers it’s Becker who holds the grudge, blaming his son for disappointing him and the boy’s mother — even blaming Booster for his mother’s death.Playwright Wilson unites the stories of these and other characters in the play in a way that delves into each man’s life while examining their workplace community and the larger society that fences them in. The actors capture the essence of their characters, and director Nzinga succeeds in providing the elements necessary to bring them together into a cohesive and unflinching portrayal. “Jitney” is an exceptional piece of theater, well played by this gifted group of artists.
The next play in the “Century” series will be “King Hedley II,” called one of Wilson’s darkest plays, followed by “Golf,” the last in the set and the only one to depict the neighborhood from the property developer’s viewpoint. Performance dates were not yet available at the time of this writing. See www.lowerbottomplayaz.com for updates.
For more about the Playaz and their mission to complete the “Century Cycle,” which Nzinga calls “arguably the best American theater ever created,” visit www.talesofironandwater.com.
If You Go
“Jitney” continues at the Flight Deck, 1540 Broadway, Oakland (near the Paramount Theatre), through Jan. 3. Tickets are $15 and are available by calling 510-332-1319 or by emailing email@example.com. Student and senior discounts available; reservations strongly suggested.
Elizabeth Warnimont is a freelance writer specializing in the performing arts. She is also a substitute teacher for the Benicia Unified School District.