Sunday, April 1, 2007
King Hedley II
Those who saw the 2001 Broadway production of August Wilson's King Hedley II know the potential it had that was squandered. Yes, it's a minor work in the Wilson canon, but a minor Wilson is usually better than most people's best play. The former production was mired with the miscasting of two crucial lead roles and the fact that it was placed in the cavernous Virginia Theatre, which now bears Mr. Wilson's name. All of the intimacy that the play required was gone if you were sitting past the fifth row of the orchestra. Not so now, in the Signature's sharp revival of the play at the Peter Norton Space. The dramatic energy is palpable, and while the production is nowhere near the quality of the company's two previous Wilson offerings this season--Seven Guitars and Two Trains Running--it's still pretty special. Russell Hornsby is commanding and engrossing in the title role, a man trying to put his life back together after a lengthy prison term, but the production belongs to Lynda Gravett and Stephen McKinley Henderson. Both holdovers from the original Broadway incarnation (Gravett understudied Leslie Uggams in the role she is playing now and Henderson played Stool Pidgeon), whenever they were on stage they owned it. My attention always gravitated back to them, and it's their performances that have stuck in my mind since the performance came down.