Review: ‘King Hedley II’ , Most Underrated August Wilson Play
The most underrated August Wilson show.
King Hedley II is the most underrated August Wilson play. Period. When people think of August Wilson’s works, your first thought is… Fences. Of course, Fences is the Golden Child of his plays, but I disagree with the popular opinion. I think King Hedley II is the best of his plays.
King Hedley II is arguably one of his richest plays in subject matter. He talks about issues that are still timely in the black community while maintaining connections to other plays in his cycle. For those that don’t know, August Wilson wrote a century cycle also known as the Pittsburgh cycle. He wrote a play for each decade of the 20th century, chronicling the black experience in that moment.
He navigates the century masterfully, talking about every issue under the sun. Police violence, poverty, gentrification, slavery, the evolution of the slave mentality, and so much more. He even brings back characters, places like Aunt Esther’s home, and even relatives of characters from other shows.
August writes like no other playwright. Everything he writes is filled with jewels you can’t catch just from seeing it. Its tapestry is rich and brilliant! I haven’t seen any other playwright be this skilled in their approach. No series by a writer with its own history. A world within these plays, it’s the most beautiful thing.
August wasn’t one to shy away from ‘controversy’, he wrote it like it was. He wrote the joy and the pain that still resonates today. His works are relatable to me, some thirty years after they were written, and 100 years after they were set. These experiences are universal for audiences of black people. King Hedley II is the one that resonates the most today.
It talks about Hedley’s simple want for respect. It’s the overhanging theme, Respect. In a time where it would seem like you’d be respected for just being a man. A black man’s journey to just be respected is something unfathomably powerful for me as a young man going through the same journey.
This Production at True Colors theatre company is breathtaking though. It’s my favorite play, I’d read it before but wow. It was everything I could’ve imagined and so much more. I must take a moment to thank this True Color Theatre Company casting department. They outdid themselves. This cast is so good there are no words to describe them! Let’s get into this character breakdown.
Eddie Bradley Jr. as Stool Pigeon: There isn’t much to be said but he’s an OG. Eddie has done the work and it shows. He brought so much to this character than I’d dreamed in just reading it. He gave his character a reason to live, a character that I just brushed off he cultivated. When I saw just a basic character, he saw a complex human being. That’s an OG right there. They take what you see as nothing, flip it on its head and will have you wondering why you didn’t see what was there.
Tiffany Denise Hobbs as Tonya: Thank You Tiffany. Thank you for creating who Tonya is to you. Family! I need y’all to understand I was beyond worried of getting a Viola Davis impersonation. She brought us her interpretation of the character and I loved it. As an audience, she gave us all we could ask for, a truthful performance. She didn’t play her character like a saint and I appreciate that.
Tonia Jackson as Ruby: I enjoyed this continuation of Seven Guitars in her character. (Ruby is featured in Seven Guitars) I enjoyed her performance. She listened really well when she light wasn’t on her in the scene and I love and respect that. I also felt comfortable in this character. I know this character; this personality and I enjoy when moments like that happen.
Eugene H. Russell IV as Mister: Neal and Eugene played this relationship extraordinarily well. I forgot I was watching a play and saw two brothers hanging out. Two men, trying to survive and get paid while doing it. Eugene nails the Rhythm of August. Much like Shakespeare has a rhythm August does too and he did not drop the ball for one moment. His comedic beats still fell within that timing, which is unbelievably difficult to do.
- Roger Mitchell as Elmore: This man is a real August Wilson fan and you can see he’s at home in these stories. The words flow fluidly out of him and it’s such a blessing to watch as a young actor. Something clicks here, in these words. It makes sense. The spirit flows in him and it’s evident onstage.
Thomas Neal Antwon Ghant as King Hedley II: Good. God. Almighty. This man is incredible in this role. The power he brings is undeniable. His stage presence alone is out of this world. There’s a scene that I particularly gasped in excitement. It was the last scene of Act 1 and I was just at the edge of my seat like a little kid in Black Panther. I was just in awe of the power and natural nature of this performance. It was nothing like I’ve ever seen before. It was raw, truthful, and real. The best performance I’ve ever seen on a stage. Period. this would be a tony winning performance on Broadway, believe that.
Go see this amazing production before it closes. Get your tickets here: https://truecolorstheatre.org/