Sarasota's Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe star honored to be in August Wilson's award-winning 'Jitney': interview

wtatangelo@bradenton.comJanuary 3, 2013 

Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe returns to the masterly work of contemporary playwright August Wilson on Friday with the opening of "Jitney."

It's the first of 10 plays written by Wilson that became known as his Pittsburgh Cycle. Each is set in a different decade of last century.

"Jitney" takes place in the 1970s inside a gypsy cab station in Pittsburgh. Regular cabs would not travel to the Hill District, forcing the residents to rely on each other. "Jitneys" are unofficial, unlicensed taxi drivers.

The cast of nine includes eight men and one woman. WBTT audiences will recognize Will Little and Dhakeria Cunningham, who have performed regularly with the troupe for the last two years, including tour de force performances in last season's "Raisin in the Sun."

Little plays Youngblood, a Vietnam vet whose attempt to surprise his girlfriend, Rena (Cunningham), with a house in the suburbs has not materialized.

"He's a hot head out of the army and a good guy trying to do the right thing but not necessary the right way," Little said of his character.

The other cast members include seasoned actors from Tennessee, North Carolina and Atlanta, with the majority from the Tampa Bay area. They are Ron Bobb-Semple, Andrew Drake, Don Johnson, Steven McKenzy, Horace Smith, Martin Taylor and Alfred H. Wilson.

"We have a really diverse range of actors," Little said. "The gelling process has been exciting, to feel the energy flow and the rhythm, it's really exciting to bring this to Sarasota."

Back to direct his fifth production with WBTT is Jim Weaver, who directed Wilson's play, "Fences," for the troupe. Michael Pasquini will be lighting designer while Jim Florek is set designer.

Weaver described "Jitney" as a period piece that recalls a familiar time in the 1970s.

"It's a dramatic play that portrays a slice of life of the characters," he said. "Instead of a story with a beginning, middle and end, 'Jitney' gives us a peek into the lives of these characters at a particular juncture in their lives."

"For me, to do an August Wilson play is an honor and blessing," Little said, "to show the brilliance of Mr. Wilson and celebrate our African American culture."

Details: 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays 8 p.m. and 2 p.m. Sundays, Jan. 4-Feb. 3, Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe Theater, 1646 10th Way, Sarasota. Ticket: $29.50. Information: 941-366-1505 or www.wbttsrq.org.

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