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King Hedley II

REBECCA JACOBSON
7:30 pm Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 pm Sundays and most Saturdays through Dec. 30., Saturday December 29 | $23-$32.
Portland Playhouse
602 NE Prescott St.
 
When the title character in King Hedley II talks about the man he murdered—a crime for which he just served seven years in prison—he summons a sharp allusion. “I got the atomic bomb as far as he concerned,” King says. “And I got to use it.” King’s reference is apt: An apocalyptic threat simmers throughout August Wilson’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 blight—evocatively rendered with the set’s chain-link fence, dirt floor and wind chime made of weather-beaten forks and spoons—a sense of decay pervades the proceedings. Wilson’s play receives a fittingly forceful production at Portland Playhouse, finely directed by Jade King Carroll. Hedley is not Wilson’s tautest work: The playwright is deservedly acclaimed for his operatic monologues, but in Hedley they’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, King’s pregnant wife, Tonya (Ramona Lisa Alexander), assesses the value of bringing a child into a ravaged world; Ruby’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 “God is a bad motherfucker”). But even as the characters sing and joke, they’ve got handguns in their pockets, ready to fire, and bombs in their souls, ready to detonate.

Where: Portland Playhouse
Phone: 488-5822
Address: 602 NE Prescott St.
Website: portlandplayhouse.org

 
 
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