When the title character in King Hedley II
talks about the man he murderedâ€”a crime for which he just served seven years in prisonâ€”he summons a sharp allusion. â€śI got the atomic bomb as far as he concerned,â€ť King says. â€śAnd I got to use it.â€ť Kingâ€™s reference is apt: An apocalyptic threat simmers throughout August Wilsonâ€™s play, the ninth in his 10-play Pittsburgh Cycle. Set in 1985 in a black Pittsburgh neighborhood ravaged by socioeconomic decline, violence and spiritual blightâ€”evocatively rendered with the setâ€™s chain-link fence, dirt floor and wind chime made of weather-beaten forks and spoonsâ€”a sense of decay pervades the proceedings. Wilsonâ€™s play receives a fittingly forceful production at Portland Playhouse, finely directed by Jade King Carroll. Hedley
is not Wilsonâ€™s tautest work: The playwright is deservedly acclaimed for his operatic monologues, but in Hedley
theyâ€™re needlessly discursive and laden with excess backstory. But what the script lacks in focus is more than made up for in the intensity and immediacy of the performances. Oregon Shakespeare Festival veteran Peter Macon plays King with keen physical and vocal command. As he attempts to sell stolen refrigerators with accomplice Mister (Vin Shambry, in a tremendously vigorous performance), King also works to reconcile with his long-distant mother, Ruby, played with ferocity, melancholy and irrepressible charm by Monica Parks. Meanwhile, Kingâ€™s pregnant wife, Tonya (Ramona Lisa Alexander), assesses the value of bringing a child into a ravaged world; Rubyâ€™s onetime lover Elmore (John Cothran Jr.) returns to Pittsburgh to woo her once again; and the Tiresias-like Stool Pigeon (Victor Mack) delivers blunt biblical interpretations (he more than once informs us that â€śGod is a bad motherfuckerâ€ť). But even as the characters sing and joke, theyâ€™ve got handguns in their pockets, ready to fire, and bombs in their souls, ready to detonate.
602 NE Prescott St.Website: portlandplayhouse.org