‘Piano Lesson’ shines in Philly

Courtney Linde

As I walked into the Arden Theatre in historic Old City in Philadelphia, I was stunned to see the number of people who were gathered in the lobby awaiting the opening of the doors.

However, having read the play that was to be performed that afternoon, August Wilson’s “The Piano Lesson,” twice in the past six months, I began to realize why there would be so many people in attendance.

As I took my seat in the audience, I could not tear my eyes away from the stage.

The set design for this production was superb.

The play is set in the mid-1930s, and the set stayed true to that time period.

With a full kitchen situated on one side and a furnished living room on the other, I really felt as if I were peering through the window of a fully functioning household.

As the lights began to dim, I knew that I was in for a theatrical treat.

Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama “The Piano Lesson” tells the story of a family that seems to have a difficult time letting go of its past.

However, this dilemma could be solved by ridding themselves of one single piece of furniture: the piano.

Siblings Berniece and Boy Willie have equal rights to the piano.

However, it has been kept at the home of Berniece and their uncle Doaker.

This piano is special to the family because engravings of their deceased ancestors have been made on the piano.

Berniece has a difficult time with the thought of parting with this piece of furniture because it is the physical memory of her family members.

However, Boy Willie thinks that it is time to sell this piano and wants to buy the land that was owned by his relatives’ master at the time of slavery with the profit.

The theme of not being able to let go of the past is exemplified throughout the drama, and each character plays a specific role in relaying this message to the audience.

Although it is a rather lengthy production, director Walter Dallas did a fine job of designing a show that was able to hold an audience’s attention for a majority of the three-hour performance.

While Dallas does deserve praise for his direction, the strongest aspect of this show is the actors.

The casting for this production was essentially flawless.

Every actor in this production successfully grasped every quality and characteristic of the character they were portraying.

Although I do believe that every person in the production was a strong actor, Kes Khemnu’s portrayal of Boy Willie was remarkable.

His comedic timing was perfect, and he never escaped his character. His dialogue is difficult and many times had long monologues. However, not once did he crumble.

Also, I found Harum Ulmer Jr.’s portrayal of Wining Boy extremely entertaining.

There were very few times that he was on stage when I was not falling out of my seat laughing.

The cast also had something that is not present in all theatrical productions, something that is essential in creating a successful production: chemistry. In “The Piano Lesson,” every performer seemed to fit together quite nicely.

Their ability to feed off one another, whether it was a comedic time, or a dramatic time, was commendable and really helped to create a realistic atmosphere.

Overall, these obviously experienced actors really made this production comparable to what would be seen on a Broadway stage.

Due to high audience demand, “The Piano Lesson” has extended its run at the Arden Theatre through April 13. An evening with the Charles’ family is surely one that will not be forgotten.