Backyard Blues: THEATREWORKS presents “Seven Guitars”

Calvin Thompson, left, Michael Broughton and Nambi Kelley will star in Seven Guitars. Photo by Isaiah Downing
Calvin Thompson, left, Michael Broughton and Nambi Kelley will star in Seven Guitars. Photo by Isaiah Downing

THEATREWORKS will present August Wilson’s “Seven Guitars” Sept. 12- 29 at the Dusty Loo Bon Vivant Theater in University Hall.

Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday. Matinees are scheduled for 2 p.m. on Sept. 21 and 28. Sunday matinees begin at 4 p.m.

Tickets are $35 each and children under 16 years old are $15. Children under 5 years are not admitted. Reservations are advised. Call 255-3232 or visit

A “first Friday talk back” is scheduled for Sept. 13. Following the production, the director and actors will return to answer audience questions. On Sept. 14, a gala is planned with free drinks and food to celebrate the opening. A prologue lecture is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Sept. 15 at the Dusty Loo Bon Vivant Theater. Piano composer Anthony Davis will talk about the blues and is expected to play as well.

“Seven Guitars” is set in the summer of 1948 with seven residents playing the blues in a tenement backyard of Pittsburgh’s Hill District. Three of them are professional musicians, three are women, one is a deranged shaman, and one of them is dead—at least he is when the play begins and ends.

“Seven Guitars” is the middle play in Wilson’s great 10 play cycle chronicling the story of African-Americans in the 20th century. It tells the story of Floyd “Schoolboy” Barton, a guitar player who went to Chicago and made a hit record, and now wants to go back and do it again with his band. But his guitar is in hock, he’s just done some time, and he has some woman trouble too. His fellow musicians are wary of making another trip to the big city where they will get ripped off again, and his girlfriend is feeling betrayed. So, the whole bunch of them play, plan and mix it up in their boarding house backyard, which is suddenly electrified by the arrival of a young woman in a red dress. All seven vivid characters are brilliantly interwoven into the play’s action—which in structure is as musical as it is dramatic, and all seven players have brilliant solo turns. This is one of Wilson’s richest epic dramas—invigorating, poetic, exploding with warmth and humor, and sharply punctuated with sudden violence.

The THEATREWORKS production of “Seven Guitars” reunites several members of the team who created Joe Turner’s “Come and Gone” two years ago. That production won the Pikes Peak Arts Council’s award as the best show of 2011. Clinton Turner Davis will again direct, and actors Calvin Thompson and Lynne Hastings return to play Floyd Barton and Louise. Melissa Taylor and Donald Paul, Colorado actors who have appeared previously in THEATREWORKS productions, play Ruby and Canewell. From New York, guest artists Nambi Kelley, Robb Douglas and Michael Broughton play Vera, Red Carter and Hedley. Jonathan Wentz designs the set, Ashley Gamba the costumes and Matthew Adelson the lights.

“Seven Guitars” is the first of two productions at THEATREWORKS this fall celebrating life in American backyards. It will be followed by Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman,” another play set in 1948, with much of its action unfolding in the Brooklyn backyard of the Loman home. Both plays have much in common, depicting the struggles of ordinary Americans attempting, in Miller’s famous words, to “make of the outside world a home.” But while related in theme, place and time, the two backyards of “Seven Guitars” and “Death of a Salesman” seem to come from entirely different cultural worlds, each unaware of the other while running down parallel tracks. THEATREWORKS is planning a series of events, many of which will occur in local backyards, inviting audiences and neighbors to share, celebrate and explore these two plays, as well as our own national history and connections.

Murray Ross, artistic director, THEATREWORKS said: “Both plays are individual masterpieces—but together they are so much more than the sum of their great parts—we are really excited to offer this wonderful and unique pairing in our new season.”

Caitlin Green

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