Best Theater Surprise

King Hedley II

When the Black Rep dedicated its past season to the memory of playwright August Wilson, they weren't merely paying lip service to a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer. This company has lived and breathed Wilson for years. These actors understand his rhythms; they know how to barrel through his overwritten passages and nurture the life in his pauses. They find shadings in Wilson that elude other actors. In New York King Hedley II was Wilson's least-enthusiastically received play. But here in St. Louis, this drama about dreams deferred in 1980s Pittsburgh leaped to life in a vigorous, sinewy production directed by Ed Smith. The cohesive cast, which included Starletta DuPois, Bianca Laverne Jones, Dennis Lebby and Geoffrey Williams, functioned as a single engine. But even engines need spark plugs; this production was sparked by two brilliant portrayals, each of which might have overwhelmed the play. But instead they made the script richer. As a menacing presence, the ever-astonishing A.C. Smith was towering. And in the title role as Hedley, an ex-con trying to reboot his life, Black Rep producing director Ron Himes delivered a blistering portrayal that set a high standard for acting at its most uncompromising.
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