Eastern Michigan University’s Theatre Department will continue its 2015-2016 main stage season with a one-week only performance of August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize- winning play, “The Piano Lesson” opening this Wednesday in the Sponberg Theatre.
“The Piano Lesson” is the fourth play in Wilson’s Pittsburgh Cycle, a collection of plays set in a different decade to reveal the African American experience in the 20th century.
“The Piano Lesson” is a drama and comedy that takes place after the Great Depression in 1936 Pittsburg where a family heirloom, a piano with ornate carvings, becomes the center of an argument between siblings, Bernice and Boy Willie.
They have different ideas on what to do with it: Bernice wants to keep the piano as a reminder of their struggle and family history, while Boy Willie wants to sell it to buy the land their family worked on as slaves.
A fan of August Wilson and the director of “The Piano Lesson,” Lee Stille wanted to bring the African American experience and culture to the stage for their voices to be heard.
“It’s important for all people to understand the significance of the past and the importance of cultures,” he said.
EMU theatre has performed African American theatre in the past, but this is the first year it will be performing an August Wilson play.
“We long wanted to do August Wilson’s plays,” he said. “I looked at ‘The Piano Lesson’ because I know actors in the department who can sing and play piano so I said let’s do this. The faculty was all on board.”
Being the director and of European descent, Stille said that working with an all-black cast was a collaborative effort and that it was important to hear and not silence voices.
“It is their voices that they are speaking as well as the voices of the characters.”
A story about the past, of music, the language of blackness and most of all about family, Stille believes the play is important for the events today regarding African Americans.
“I want people to think about and question the challenges being faced today in terms of judgment placed on a group of people and allow themselves to hear voices and explore a culture.”
“The Piano Lesson” will be performed February 10, 11, 12, 13 at 7 p.m. and February 13 & 14 at 2 p.m. in the Sponberg Theatre in Quirk Dramatic Arts Building. Ticket prices are $15 regular admission, $12 for students and seniors and $9 for MAINSTAGE patrons.
Tickets are available in person at the Convocation Center, the Student Center or the Quirk Box Office, by phone at 734-487-2282 and online at emutix.com. Recommended for ages 13 and older.