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Review: A Fine Staging of August Wilson's "King Headley II"

“King Hedley II,” A Noise Within, Pasadena, March 31 – April 28, 2024

 

Apr. 27, 2024 | By Bruce R. Feldman

 

In Brief: A rewarding production that honors both August Wilson’s elegiac text and the essential humanity of its careworn characters.



From left, Christian Henley, Aaron Jennings, Veralyn Jones, Kacie Rogers in "King Headley II" at A Noise Within

 

King Hedley II was the ninth entry in August Wilson’s ten-play American Century Cycle, so called because each work takes place in a different decade of the last century. Collectively, the plays explore the heartbreak and desperation of the urban Black experience through the lens of the playwright’s powerful poetry and deeply felt humanity.

 

Set in Pittsburgh in 1985, Hedley tells the story of an ex-con trying to rebuild his life. King  (an appealing Aaron Jennings) needs $10,000 to buy a video store that will allow him to start a family with his long-suffering wife (a sympathetic Kacie Rogers). He earns some of the money by selling stolen refrigerators to his neighbors. He gets the rest in a jewelry store heist that he conducts with his friend (Christian Henley).

 

What happens after that is surprising, and yet it feels inevitable. That’s a testament to Wilson’s enduring artistry and dramatic invention.

 


Wilson’s tale is well served by director Gregg T. Daniel’s commendable staging. While it displays occasional moments of spirituality, expressed effectively through the character of Stool Pigeon (Gerald C. Rivers), it is mostly  a straightforward treatment, one that delivers multiple pleasures, including professional sets, lighting, and incidental music, and strong performances from a uniformly excellent cast.

 

Also noteworthy in the ensemble are Veralyn Jones, as King’s go-along-to-get-along mother, and Ben Cain, as her shiftless fiancé.

 

Though King Hedley II is not as well-known as some of Wilson’s other dramas – notably, Fences, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, or The Piano Lesson – this is fine, worthwhile effort from a A Noise Within.

 

“King Headley II,” A Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena, CA 91107, (626) 356-3100, www.anoisewithin.org

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