Although written first, Jitney is the last of the ten plays in August Wilson’s American Century Cycle to reach Broadway. This superb production at Manhattan Theatre Club was worth the wait. The focus of the play is the office of a gypsy cab service in a primarily black Pittsburgh neighborhood. We meet the owner Becker (the indispensable John Douglas Thompson), a man widely respected by the community; four of his drivers — Fielding , an alcoholic with a surprising past (longtime Wilson veteran Anthony Chisholm); Youngblood (Andre Holland from the film Moonlight), the Vietnam vet trying to make a better life for his girlfriend Rena (Carra Patterson) and their young son; the soft-spoken, aloof Doub (Keith Randolph Smith), emotionally crippled by what he saw in the Korean War; and gossipy troublemaker Turnbo (the pitch-perfect Michael Potts) — and a couple of regular visitors — Shealy (Harvy Blanks), a flamboyant numbers bookie, and Philmore (Ray Anthony Thomas), a frequent customer. Finally, there is Booster (Brandon J. Dirden), Becker’s son, just released from prison after 20 years. The reunion scene between father and son that ends the first act is both riveting and lacerating. The conversations and conflicts among the other characters often pack a punch while often simultaneously delivering a chuckle. Ensemble acting doesn’t get much better than this. The richly detailed set by David Gallo incorporates glimpses of the neighborhood. Toni-Leslie James’s costumes are perfection. The bluesy music by Bill Sims Jr. enhances the action. Director Ruben Santiago-Hudson (The Piano Lesson) once again demonstrates his aptitude for Wilson’s work. The play is weakened a bit by its pat ending, but not enough to erase its many strengths. My one quibble is that I thought that Dirden (The Piano Lesson), although a fine actor, was miscast; he bears no physical resemblance to Thomspon and looks too sleek and confident for a man just out of prison. Nevertheless, this is a powerful revival of a play well worth seeing. Running time: 2 hours 25 minutes including intermission.
Seating advice: Since the floor of the stage has been raised at least a foot, i do not recommend seats in the first few rows.