August Wilson was on the outs with Broadway at the time of his death last October. “Gem of the Ocean,” the ninth installment of his ten-play cycle about the black experience in America, barely made it to the Great White Way, and “Radio Golf,” the last play in the cycle, has yet to be seen there (though it’s already received several regional productions). So it’s good news indeed that the Signature Theater Company, the Off Broadway troupe that devotes each of its seasons to the work of one American playwright, is featuring him this year–and that “Seven Guitars,” the first of three plays by Wilson to be produced there this season, has been given a revival of the utmost splendor and compulsion. Now that “The Lieutenant of Inishmore” and “Faith Healer” have closed their doors, I’d go so far as to call it the best play in town….
Needless to say, it was written with black playgoers very much in mind, but for all the ethnic specificity of his chronicles of ghetto life, Wilson never lost sight of the artist’s obligation to communicate to the widest possible audience. As he told the Paris Review in 1999, “You create the work to add to the artistic storehouse of the world, to exalt and celebrate a common humanity.” I can’t think of a better way to sum up “Seven Guitars”: Like all great art, it shows you yourself, no matter who you are….
Youngsters unaware that Stephen Schwartz wrote anything before “Wicked” should take note of the lively production of “Pippin” now playing at the Goodspeed Opera House, the century-old 398-seat auditorium on the Connecticut River whose musical-comedy revivals are universally admired by well-traveled connoisseurs….
To be sure, “Pippin” is a wan period piece with a watered-down rock score and wince-making lyrics that stink of 1972 (“Every man has his daydreams/Every man has his goals/People like the way dreams have/Of sticking to the soul”). But the ham-fisted stop-the-war sermonizing of the first act will soothe the parched souls of the gray-ponytail set, and Gabriel Barre and Beowulf Boritt, the director and designer, have miraculously contrived to shoehorn the show’s complicated events onto the Goodspeed’s tiny stage with plenty of room to spare….
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