The first rehearsal, last Thursday, of Lincoln Center Theater's Joe Turner's Come and Gone was historic. The setting of the play may be "August in Pittsburgh, 1911," but other dates were mentioned at this meet-and-greet between the cast of LCT's revival and the staff of the theater itself. Bernard Gersten, LCT's executive producer, mentioned the significance of January 20, the day Barack Obama was inaugurated, and the fact that the first rehearsal was taking place on February 12, the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birth. Andre Bishop, LCT's artistic director, joked that Gersten had stolen his thunder by saying what he, Bishop, was going to say, and issued a warm welcome to the cast, emphasizing that LCT is dedicated to providing a supportive home for theater artists.
Wilson's widow, the costume designer and painter Constanza Romero, who was there with her daughter, Azula Carmen, raised the excitement level in the rehearsal room when she said: "August often said that Joe Turner was the favorite of his plays. He felt that in writing it he had turned his soul inside out. He thought of it as the groundwork for much of his work that followed."
Bartlett Sher, the director of LCT's Joe Turner, spoke briefly about the revival's production concept. He mentioned that Lloyd Richards, who directed the Broadway debut in 1988, and his designer, Scott Bradley, tended to work in a tradition of "deep naturalism." Sher said that he and his set designer, Michael Yeargan, were "more attracted by the poet in August Wilson."
Sher acknowledged the revival's costume designer, Catherine Zuber, and how her designs were going to take the slight liberty of "looking more like 1912 than 1911." Zuber added: "This allows the ladies' clothing in particular to look less Victorian, less buttoned-up." The overall effect, Sher said, will be to evoke a sense that in the era of Joe Turner, as in our own day, "there is a sense that a seismic shift is taking place in the country. In 1911, as in our own day, people have a sense that five years from now things will be very different than how they are today.
BRENDAN LEMON is the American theater critic for the Financial Times and the editor of lemonwade.com