When the SUNY Fredonia Department of Theatre and Dance presents its production of "The Piano Lesson" beginning Nov. 30, it will be an event of historical note.
In addition to featuring the work of one of the great American playwrights of the 20th Century, the Walter Gloor Mainstage offering will be the first production in the history of the department to feature an entirely African American cast.
"The significance of this event is immeasurable. This is truly a breakthrough moment, not only in the department's history but also in the university's history," said Tom Loughlin, chairman of the Department of Theatre and Dance and director of "The Piano Lesson." "The university's consistent drive to make this campus more diversified has borne fruit in the fact that we have been able to stage this play with a cast of African-American theatre majors and one music education major."
Boy Willie (Daniel Astacio), left, and his sister, Berneice (Siobhan Hunter), debate what to do with a family heirloom as their uncle, Doaker (David Quinones), looks on in a scene from “The Piano Lesson.” The SUNY Fredonia Department of Theatre and Dance production opens Nov. 30 and runs for six performances in Bartlett Theatre at Rockefeller Arts Center.
Loughlin called the production "a personal highlight of my career as an artist on this campus."
"But more importantly," he said, "it's something that I hope we can continue to build upon as a department and as a campus community."
"The Piano Lesson" was written by August Wilson (1945-2005), an African-American playwright who earned numerous awards for his works - including both a Tony Award for best play and a Pulitzer Prize for best drama for "The Piano Lesson."
The play tells of a family struggling with the past and the future as they debate whether to sell a valuable antique piano. Boy Willie, a sharecropper, wants to sell it in order to purchase the land upon which his ancestors toiled as slaves.
His sister, Berneice, believes the family should hold on to the heirloom. It features a cast of eight, with two of the roles being double cast to allow more opportunities for the student actors.
"I have always been drawn to the work of August Wilson since seeing a production of 'Fences' on Broadway way back when. For years, I have sought a way to bring his work to the Fredonia stage," Loughlin said. "During last year's annual opening meeting for the department, I took notice of the relatively large number of minority students we had in the department and realized I could readily cast a production of a Wilson play."
Six performances are planned from Nov. 30 to Dec. 8 in Bartlett Theatre at Rockefeller Arts Center on the SUNY Fredonia campus. Dates and show times are Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, 6, 7, and 8 at 7:30 p.m. with a matinee at 2 p.m. on Dec. 2.
Loughlin wants audiences to experience the "truly magnificent and poetic writing of August Wilson" and to realize that "his name and his work belong in the pantheon of the truly great American playwrights of the 20th century."
"But more than that, I want them to experience the deep and soulful humanity - a humanity that transcends race and ethnic origin - that Wilson presents to us all," the director said. "August Wilson is not simply a 'black' playwright; he is a profoundly human playwright. The dreams and hopes of these characters are ones we all share and I would like our audiences to take that message away with them after seeing this play."
"The Piano Lesson" is sponsored by the SUNY Fredonia Federal Credit Union as part of the Lake Shore Savings Season. "The Piano Lesson" contains adult content and language and is not suitable for younger viewers.
Tickets are available through the SUNY Fredonia Ticket Office in the Williams Center (673-3501 or fredonia.edu/tickets ).