All time hall of fame: MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM by August Wilson at Oregon Shakespeare Festival (2005)

In October of 2005 when August Wilson passed away, a top notch production of his first play, MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM, was on in Ashland.

This was one of those OSF ensembles you dream about. But when Kevin Kenerly’s Levy (currently appearing in Portland in Portland Playhouse’s production of JITNEY at the Winningstad) jabbed his knife skyward and bitterly addressed god directly, the experience moved towards the eternal.

MA RAINEY'S BLACK BOTTOM at OSF (2005). Josiah Phillips, Greta Oglesby. Photo: Jenny Graham
MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM at OSF (2005). Josiah Phillips, Greta Oglesby. Photo: Jenny Graham

MA RAINEY'S BLACK BOTTOM at OSF (2005). Josiah Phillips, Abdul Salaam El Razzac, Greta Oglesby, Kevin Kenerly. Photo: Jenny Graham.
MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM at OSF (2005). Josiah Phillips, Abdul Salaam El Razzac, Greta Oglesby, Kevin Kenerly. Photo: Jenny Graham.

MA RAINEY'S BLACK BOTTOM at OSF (2005). Ensemble.  Photo: Jenny Graham.
MA RAINEY’S BLACK BOTTOM at OSF (2005). Ensemble. Photo: Jenny Graham.

JITNEY rings through history with sharply specific portraits

JITNEY by August Wilson at Portland Playhouse

A cast with more depth and talent than the Seahawks’ defensive line. Stunning. Director G. Valmont Thomas carefully, tenderly shapes the strands of (mostly male) African American pain – and joy. Though it can take a while for Wilson to get where he’s going, when he arrives the payoff is mighty.

4-stars

Thru February 16

Theater Review | TWO TRAINS RUNNING by August Wilson at Oregon Shakespeare Festival

LSD.

For aging baby boomers now at the core of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s audience demographic, the acronym may bring back memories of riding in hand-painted school buses with Ken Kesey or waking up in a teepee in upstate New York.

Ah yes – the 60’s.

But for anyone who has seen director Lou Bellamy’s 3-plus hour version of TWO TRAINS RUNNING by August Wilson, one of the four opening shows at OSF this year, a new definition for the hallowed counter culture code other than lysergic acid diethylamide seems apt: Long Slow Drama.

For while there can be no doubt that it is drama, it runs to a length, and at a pace, that often challenges the audience to stay tuned in to this lyrical playwright’s vision.

Memphis (Terry Bellamy) and Wolf (Kenajuan Bentley) come to an understanding. Photo by Jenny Graham.
Memphis (Terry Bellamy) and Wolf (Kenajuan Bentley) come to an understanding. Photo by Jenny Graham.

Continue reading “Theater Review | TWO TRAINS RUNNING by August Wilson at Oregon Shakespeare Festival”