Photo by Daren Scott
Yolanda Franklin and Laurence Brown in King Hedley II
August Wilson is the featured playwright in Cygnet Theatre’s annual fall rotating repertory offering. Seven Guitars and King Hedley II, both part of Wilson’s Pittsburgh Cycle, are set 40 years apart, though they feature several of the same characters. If you see both plays, definitely see them in the order in which they were written, as the latter, King Hedley II, will make more contextual sense to you. On their own, King Hedley II is the more powerful of the two. Its nearly three hours are tense, wrenching ones, delving uncompromisingly into the experience of black Americans trying to survive in Pittsburgh’s Hill District during the Reaganomics ’80s. Chief among them is King himself (a fiercely intense Laurence Brown), whose life of one step forward and two steps back is also one of violence and desperation.
In both plays, Antonio TJ Johnson stands out, hovering over Seven Guitars and King Hedley II as manic, precognitive characters whose presence on the stage foretells retribution—human or from on high. He may be from one moment to the next comic relief or a living, breathing omen.
Jennifer L. Nelson directs each production, the ensembles of which also include Ro Boddie (handling the lead role in Seven Guitars), Yolanda Franklin, Grandison Phelps III, Milena Phillips and the singularly named Yvonne.
Seven Guitars and King Hedley II run on rotating nights through Nov. 6 at the Old Town Theatre. $36-$46. cygnettheatre.com
Lizard Boy smacks of a graphic novel set to music. This highly charged import from the Seattle Rep, Diversionary Theatre’s inaugural show, in its 31st season, is a misfit’s meet-up story wrapped in a myth about dragon blood, scaly skin and the eruption of Mount St. Helens. Justin Huertas’ story is pretty preposterous even in a broad comic book way, but his one-act three-person show is redeemed by an often-impressive musical score. When he, Kirsten Delohr Helland and William A. Williams set aside their implausible characters and devote themselves to Huerta’s affecting songs (many of them about the quest for identity), Lizard Boy acquits itself well indeed. One piece of free advice, though: Lose the kazoos.
Lizard Boy runs through Oct. 30 at Diversionary Theatre in University Heights. $15-$50. diversionary.org
Disgraced: Ayad Akhtar’s Pulitzer-winning drama about a Muslim man who hosts a dinner party for his African-American co-worker and his Jewish wife, only to have the dinner go horribly wrong. Presented by San Diego Repertory Theatre, it opens Oct. 20 at the Lyceum Stage in the Gaslamp.
November: David Mamet’s biting political comedy about an inept, outgoing U.S. president who has put the office up for sale. Directed by Steve Murdock, it opens Oct. 21 at OnStage Playhouse in Chula Vista. onstageplayhouse.info
Miss You Like Hell: In this world premiere musical, a teenage girl sets out on a road trip with her free-spirited Latina mother. Written by Erin McKeown, it opens Oct. 25 at the La Jolla Playhouse.lajollaplayhouse.org
October Sky : Adapted from the popular 1999 film, this new musical set in ’50s West Virginia tells the story of a highschooler who’s hell bent on building his own space rocket. Featuring music by Michael Mahler, it runs through Oct. 23 at the Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. theoldglobe.org
The Lion : Benjamin Scheuer’s acclaimed one-man-show rock ‘n’ roll musical about his life. Directed by Sean Daniels, it runs through Oct. 30 at the Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park. theoldglobe.org
Lizard Boy : A disfigured gay boy, who had always been afraid to be seen in public, sets out on a rock ‘n’ roll musical adventure with help from his new Grindr friend Cary. Written by Justin Huertas, it runs through Oct. 30 at the Diversionary Theatre in Hillcrest. diversionary.org
ART : Yasmina Reza’s Tony-winning comedy about three pals whose friendship is tested when one buys an expensive piece of modern art. Presented by Intrepid Theatre Company, it runs through Nov. 6 at the Horton Grand Theatre in the Gaslamp. intrepidtheatre.org
Seven Guitars : Set in ’40s Pittsburgh, this comical mystery centers on a blues guitarist who dies just as his career is about to take off. Written by August Wilson and presented by Cygnet Theatre, it runs through Nov. 6 at the Old Town Theatre. cygnettheatre.com
King Hedley II : A man recently released from prison struggles to reclaim his life, family and community. Written by August Wilson and presented by Cygnet Theatre, it runs through Nov. 6 at the Old Town Theatre. cygnettheatre.com
Laughter on the 23rd Floor : Neil Simon’s comedy about his early days in live television working with the likes of Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks. Directed by Tom Markus, it runs through Nov. 13 at the North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. northcoastrep.org
God of Carnage : In Yasmina Reza’s comedy, two sets of parents tussle after their kids get into a playground fight. Directed by Jessica Bird, it runs through Nov. 13 at the New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad. newvillagearts.org
Equivocation : A playwright named “Shagspeare” is forcibly commissioned by the King to write the definitive history of the Gunpowder Plot in Bill Cain’s acclaimed who-done-it. Directed by Deborah Gilmour Smyth, it runs through Nov. 20 at the Lamb’s Players Theatre in Coronado. lambsplayers.org