"Jitney", a play set in the 1970's in Pittsburgh, features an entertaining cast of 6 characters. My boyfriend took me to see it at the famous Ford's Theater last Saturday afternoon. He had tickets given to him by his school in an appreciation gesture they were making for their teachers.
The plot centers, appropriately enough for its title 'Jitney', around a "Car Service" as they say when they answer the phones. The drivers pay dues in exchange for being able to work under the service and use the station to hang out while they are not driving. This reminded me of the taxi service on Yap, and I started getting homesick.
I don't go to live theater very much, mostly because I would prefer to watch a movie or go to a live music show, but this play was really entertaining because the characters were so likeable and well played. Live theater irritates me sometimes. It's obvious the actors/actresses are playing characters and engaging in dialogue they would never engage in, saying things they would never ordinarily say. But in Jitney, the characters and dialogue, and the actors who portrayed them, were all, mostly, natural and comfortable. With one of the exceptions being Becker's son, who re-enters Becker's life after being let out of the State penetentiary after serving 20 years for manslaughter. The character and his role was definitely serious, but I think the actor played it a little too seriously and stiffly.
My favorite character was one of the drivers who was constantly drunk. At one point, Becker tells him that he can't come back to work until he was sober, which doesn't make him very happy. He asserts that he's paid his dues for two weeks so he has a right to be a driver. Becker gives him his dues money back and tells him to get out. At that point, the drunk driver flails his arms about exclaiming, "This is the United States of America! This is a free country!". It was funny.
The best actor, though, was the youngest driver named "Youngblood". He was having relationship problems and his girlfriend (the only female actress in the play) often came by the station to see him and whine dramatically about things that were wrong (e.g. not having enough money to feed the baby or him staying out too late or suspecting him or cheating on her with her sister "Peaches"). His character was so natural and relaxed- based on the way he moved around the stage and around the props and with his clothes. All the actors and actress were dressed in these outrageously colorful and flamboyantly 1970s style clothes (e.g. bellbottoms, bright vests/jackets, etc.). Some of the actors looked a little silly and slighlty uncomfortable in their costumes. Stiff. Their demeanor suggested, somehow, that they would never, themselves, wear an outfit like that. But the actor who played Youngblood was different. The way he sat and walked. At one point he spent the night at the station because he didn't want to go home after an accusatory confrontation with his wife ending in her saying she wasn't going to be there when he got home. The next morning he had to put his shoes on. There was something about the way he put on his shoes that required readjusting some time later, mid-dialogue, because he didn't do it right the first time, and in order to keep walking around he needed to bend down and fix it. It was the way he bent down and adjusted his shoes struck me as so normal and natural, like anyone could really have been doing that, and it wasn't acting a part of a character. There was another point where he had to go around a desk in the corner, and just the way he maneuvered around the piece of furniture also struck as very comfortable and natural.
The play, although it was long, ended rather abruptly with the death of Becker. I thought this last plot twist could have been left out. The play could have ended without it as there was plenty of closure to the stories of the characters' lives. It's good to leave things up to imagination sometimes. The theme of the plot was changes. The building where the station was located was potentially going to be boarded up and the car service was potentially going to close down, Becker's son was released from jail after 20 years, Youngblood and his girlfriend patch up their relationship and are buying a house together after Youngblood- who had not been cheating on her with her sister- had been working two jobs to save and pay for it, the drunk guy seemed like he was sobering up, and the car service workers had a meeting and decided to hire a lawyer to fight the destruction of the building where the station was. The play could have ended there. But instead Becker was killed on his first night back at work at the mill, and the play ended on somewhat of a sad tone until the son realized that he wanted to continue in his dad's place running the car service.
I had never been in Ford's Theater before. The President's box, where I'm assuming Lincoln was assassinated, is located quite near the stage. It is roped off and decorated. The lower floor of the building, where the bathrooms are located, is a museum displaying information and artifacts of that time period and of the assassination.