Joe Turner Turman, David, Thompson*It was a night of nights at the Mark Taper Forum last night when the stars came out for the opening of the August Wilson classic “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone,” directed by Phylicia Rashad. 

Stars in attendance included Angela Bassett, Dawn Lewis, Debbie Allen, Norm Nixon, Malcolm Jamal Warner, Harry Lennix, Lamman Rucker, Lynn Whitfield, Salli Richardson, Dondre Whitfield, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Hattie Winston, Harold Wheeler, Garrett Morris and many more.

The jam packed arena was treated to another theatrical presentation from the Center Theatre Group’s 2013 series of plays that celebrate the African American experience. Surely three of the finest contemporary actors descended upon this production in the form of Keith David as Seth Holly, John Douglas Thompson as Herald Loomis, and the irrepressible Glynn Turman as Bynum Walker. 

To see these three men work together is worth thrice the ticket price.  Through their dramatic interpretations, acute timing and passionate delivery of Wilson’s work, the story reaches off of the stage and into the hearts of the audience.  This is also in huge part to Rashad’s sensitive handling of the delicacies of the August Wilson script, which in less capable hands could tend to sag on the more distressing elements of Wilson’s signature societal undertones. 

Instead, the audience is drawn into the main characters’ psyche with vibrant moments, haunting memories, seductive entanglements and a thread of frustration over the life that they aspire and the life that they are living in the here and now, which is the post reconstruction era in the United States at Seth Holly’s boarding house in the early 1900’s. 

Lilias White is a live wire as Seth’s wife Bertha.  She plays a dutiful spouse with plenty fire of her own.  This talented ensemble cast is even favored with two adorable kids, who can actually act!  Not one beat was lost to inexperience when little Syke Barrett and Nathaniel James Potvin took the stage as Herald Loomis’ daughter Zonia and her friend Reuben. These kids were delightful.

Joe Turner kidsVivian Nixon (daughter of Debbie Allen and Norm Nixon) made her debut at the Mark Taper Forum as the saucy Molly Cunningham.  Vivian carried herself on stage just like the second generation diva that she is.  Meanwhile the strikingly beautiful January LaVoy added mystery and intrigue as Mattie Campbell, the damsel in distress.  Other great work was exuded by Gabriel Brown, Raynor Scheine and Erica Tazel.Alas, kudos to casting director Joanne DeNaut who assembled this array of gifted actors.     

Joe Turner David NixonPhylicia Rashad brilliantly captures every texture and timbre in August Wilson classic “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone.”  The coveted play is one of ten by the late August Wilson, that covers the time span of a century in America from 1905 to 1995.  Among them are Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (set in the 1920’s), Seven Guitars (set in the 1940’s), Piano Lesson (set in the 1930’s) and Fences (set in the 1950’s).Wilson won a Pulitzer Prize for Piano Lesson and Fences.  The current version of “Joe Turner” is showing now through June 9th 2013 at the Mark Taper Forum at the Music Center, 135 N. Grand Avenue in downtown Los Angeles, California 90012.  Tickets are available at the box office or by calling (213) 628-2772.  To purchase on line go to http://www.centertheatregroup.org/tickets/Joe-Turners-Come-and-Gone/

August Wilson (Born Frederick August Kittel April 27, 1945) died in October 2005,  and he worked in close association with the late famed director Lloyd Richards, who died a year later.  The legacy of both of these theatrical giants lives on in the evolution of these prolific works of art.