Week One of the August Wilson Century Series – Jitney

First, and before I misplace it, here is a link to the episode of Theater Talk that featured the Tony-award winning cast of Jitney in 2017:

This one is also good:

It was interesting the way we focused our discussion on relationships, the peripheral relationship between Turnbo and Rena, the complex and layered relationship between Becker and Booster, and the evolving, dynamic, almost dance-like relationship between Rena and Youngblood. Relationships are such an essential, human thing, always transforming, always reflecting the environment that surrounds them, for good or ill.

We could have easily spent the whole class period on Becker and Booster’s father-son relationship, Becker’s deep disappointment in the mistakes that his son made and the consequences of those mistakes, the hopes that Becker placed in Boomer, and the energy he attempted to transfer to the future where Boomer might have more and better opportunities than he had. But I also think that at some level, Boomer’s “acting up” and the decisions he took that incarcerated him was a rejection of the pressure he felt from his father, and a not so subtle decision that he was going to live his own life, not the one Becker tried to transfer over to him. At the play’s end, Boomer starts toward the door to leave the jitney office, but the phone rings, and after a negligible hesitation, Boomer goes over and answers the phone, “Car service” as the light fades to black. I think that motion and action symbolize that there is hope for Boomer and there is hope for the jitney operation.

There is of course a lot to be said about Youngblood and Rena. One thing we didn’t discuss today was the tenderness of emotion Becker displayed in his conversation with Rena and Youngblood. Becker says towards the end of Act 2 Scene 1,

When you look around you’ll see that all you got is each other. There ain’t much more. Even when it look like there is…you come one day to find out there ain’t much more worth having.

Here we see that despite the gruff Becker displayed towards his own son, he never stopped developing as a father, never gave up on his own emotional development, and we are left wondering if one day he might overcome his great disappointment and be able to show a similar level of affection for Boomer that he clearly has for Youngblood.  Alas, Becker’s potential for development is arrested on the factory floor so we will never know. As Vonnegut would say, “so it goes.”

We will see more of this relationship dynamic in Ma Rainey next week.

6 thoughts on “Week One of the August Wilson Century Series – Jitney

  1. Thank you for the recap of today’s class. We all seemed to be quite enthusiastic about the material and each other’s thoughts about it.
    I am not used to this type of interactive computer exchange–not sure how to do it (technically–never blogged, or entered comments after a class or any of it) don’t know who can see comments, etc. Will try to gear up.

    I do think that with all our feelings and desires to talk about the issues raised in this body of work, the problem of everyone getting a chance to read their passage, and a chance for comments might cause time problems each class. What can we do about that?

    I will try to be better about raising my hand and not blurting out.
    Sometimes I think I will forget what I was responding to if I can’t just get it out in the moment.

    1. Thanks, Betty. I am excited about the class and the next ten weeks of exploration. I agree about the time limitations of the classroom. Perhaps these online representations, the posts and the comments, can the fill or bridge the gap. The blog, by the way, is publicly accessible, while the Google Group is only available to subscribers. Thanks again for your comment here.

  2. I want to ask Ray and the class about Music: In real life, would there have been a radio playing in a typical jitney office (though not workable on stage, competing with the actors’ voices) and if so, what kind of music? Ma Rainey (died 1939), Bessie Smith (d. 1937), mostly other blues, or something else?

    “Jitney” is set in 1977. In the mostly, what, late ‘60s and into the ‘70s the blues artists I got to see and hear in my white world were Lightnin’ Hopkins (d. 1982), Rev Gary Davis (d. 1972), Muddy Waters (d. 1983), James Cotton (d. 2017), and the like. Different generations. Is it clear who August Wilson was listening to, beyond Rainey and Smith? Will this become apparent in due time?

    And on a different topic, Relationships, it seems to me Wilson suggests that, in many (husband-wife, father-son, man-to-man) our strengths sometimes mask our weaknesses, making it harder for us to recognize them.

  3. Great! Great! Great! Thank you for posting these videos. I’m not familiar with August Wilson, but hearing him talked about and his work discussed with such love and understanding is fascinating. Loved it!!! Thank you.

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