Seven Guitars | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Ten years after its world premiere at the Goodman, August Wilson's 1940s entry in his decade-by-decade examination of African-American life receives a rich, careful staging from Derrick Sanders for Congo Square Theatre Company. Wilson's discursive script covers the last days of Floyd "Schoolboy" Barton, a one-hit bluesman who's returned to Pittsburgh's Hill district from Chicago to win the hand of Vera, his onetime lover. Set a few years before the civil rights movement caught fire, Seven Guitars skillfully captures the anguish of waiting--for inconstant lovers to prove themselves true, for white managers to make good on promises, for the ghosts of the past to provide ways to move forward. It's talky, like most of Wilson's work, and there are some overwritten speeches, especially for Hedley, a mad quasi-mystic West Indian. But the splendid ensemble makes clear that storytelling is a survival mechanism for black people, denied their essential humanity by white society. Ann Joseph shines as the torn but steadfast Vera, and though Will Sims II could use a bit more cockiness as Floyd, he turns up the emotional heat when necessary. In its immediacy and intensity, this production seldom falters. Through 6/12: Thu-Sat 7:30 PM, Sun 2 PM. Duncan YMCA Chernin Center for the Arts, 1001 W. Roosevelt, 312-421-7800. $25.

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