Notes on Jitney for 9.24.2018

Briefly, Jitney was August Wilson’s first big success at playwriting. Set in Pittsburgh, it played to sell out crowds in local theaters in 1982. It was late getting to Broadway, finally, in 2000, but to mixed reviews. But in 2017 it won the Tony for Best Revival and was a sensational success. Finally, the video of the revival Broadway production actors discuss the idea that Wilson began writing Jitney, put it down to write Seven Guitars, then returned to Jitney later. Some characters and lines overlap…

First, here is a link to the episode of Theater Talk that featured the Tony-award winning cast of Jitney in 2017:

This one is also good:


At the time of Jitney’s writing, August Wilson did not know (or was not aware) that he would be writing a century series of ten plays.

Some themes to consider as the plot(s) develops:

  1. urban renewal/re-development. Cities that were the destination in the Great Migration being deconstructed, economic concentrations dissolved.
  2. “black market” entrepreneurism. Unemployment high, services not being provided to black communities open door to off-the-books businesses.
  3. relationships (men/women, men/men, father/son). Youngblood and Rena learning how to cope with each other. Becker and Booster, same. Youngblood and Turnbo conflict.
  4. conflict resolution/manhood
  5. incarceration/prison reform. Booster released. Counterpart to Youngblood in a sense.
  6. rituals that punctuate daily life at the station. Checkers, the phone ringing, chats about relationships/women, blaming or not blaming whites for failures.

Cast of characters (from Professor Shannon):

Jim Becker, the well-respected manager of the jitney station. In his 60s.
Doub, a driver, cautious and slow going, a Korean War veteran. One of few August Wilson characters who is a military veteran.
Fielding, a driver, an alcoholic, formerly a tailor who clothed Billy Eckstine and Count Basie.
Turnbo, a driver, notorious for being a gossip.
YoungBlood (Darnell), a driver. Recently returned from Vietnam, working several jobs to provide for his family. In his late 20s. Another rare veteran.
Rena, YoungBlood’s girlfriend and the mother of his young son, Jesse.
Shealy, a flamboyant bookie who uses the jitney station as the basis of his numbers running operations.
Philmore, a local Hotel doorman and a frequent jitney passenger.
Booster (Clarence Becker), Becker’s son, who has just completed a 20-year prison sentence for murder. In his early 40s.

  1. The Hopefuls (Youngblood)
  2. The Defeated (Fielding, Turnbo, Becker)
  3. The Warriors (Booster)
  4. The Survivors (Doub, Shealy, Philmore)

The 70’s:

  1. post-civil rights era
  2. Watergate
  3. Vietnam War build-up and end
  4. Roots on national TV
  5. Bakke and affirmative action
  6. Rapper’s Delight and the birth of hip hop


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