August Wilson's How I Learned What I Learned
Frederick August Kittle Jr. loved libraries. That's a point clearly made in How I Learned What I Learned, August Wilson's autobiographical play at the Signature Center, directed by Todd Kreidler, starring Ruben Santiago Hudson. Freddie Kittle Jr. preferred libraries to Pittsburgh schools which were not an easy way for him to learn. He also loved his mother, Daisy Wilson, and he loved people, particularly black people.
How I Learned What I Learned is a memoir monologue, written and originally performed by the playwright in 2003. Chronicling August Wilson's youthful past and path through the Hill District of Pittsburgh, the play is a theatrical, though fully documentary investigation of black and white experience in an American city. The play, via Santiago-Hudson's personal relationship and thorough understanding of Wilson, gives audiences a better understanding of one of the world's greatest playwrights.
As audiences understand Shakespeare who poetically and theatrically taught an expanding world in the parallel Ages of Enlightenment and Enslavement, this play provides critical awareness of poet, playwright and polymath Wilson.
The play's scenes about music, specifically John Coltrane's influence on Wilson's mystical storytelling is brilliantly conveyed by Santiago-Hudson, who appeared in the original Broadway productions of Wilson's Gem Of The Ocean and Seven Guitars. He has also directed several Wilson plays and delightfully and knowingly restores his late good old friend in this production.
As Wilson's first Broadway director, Lloyd Richards, counseled playwrights on the spelling of the word p-l-a-y-w-r-i-g-h-t, "Plays are not written," said Richards. "Plays are wrought – like iron." Each of Wilson's ten Century Cycle plays was a well-wrought play.
To learn more about the playwright's kinship among Ma Rainey, Boy Willie, American job seekers and Othello, see How I Learned What I Learned.
At the Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street, 212-244-7529.
Christopher Paul Moore is Senior Researcher at NYPL Schomburg Center for Research In Black Culture and author of Fighting For America: Black Soldiers, The Unsung Heroes of World War II and playwright, "The Last Season" in Seven Black Plays, Northwestern University Press.