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Playwright August Wilson: The seeds of a century coming to Tacoma

Unpacking the "gift" of Joe Turner

C. Rosalind Bell / photo credit: Jennifer Adams

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Playwright August Wilson's "Pittsburgh Cycle" comprises ten plays about the African-American experience, each set in its own decade of the 20th century. It's a massive, multifaceted saga worthy of the best work from actors, designers, and directors. C. Rosalind Bell, a playwright herself, knew and worked with Wilson and Claude Purdy, their frequent collaborator. She was born in Lake Charles, La., worked as a writer in San Francisco and civil rights investigator for the Treasury Department in D.C., then landed here in 1995. Now she's directing Wilson's play Joe Turner's Come and Gone, the second in Wilson's epic cycle, for the Broadway Center.

I asked Ms. Bell ("But you must call me Rosalind!") about her work on this production. She insists, "The work is really already done. The work is in (Wilson's) words." A director myself, I was unconvinced that's all there is to it. "It's amazing," she says, "the transformation the actors go through when they settle into the play...(Wilson) makes the ordinary extraordinary."

So what are Bell's, er, Rosalind's hopes for this production? She first addressed her hopes for its actors: "That they trust the word...and for the playgoer, the audience, to experience the loss, the redemption, the gift that is this play." It's the story of Americans only recently freed from bondage, and how the stench of slavery lingers in 1911...and now. "(There's) a link between what America was and is and ultimately what we can be," she says. "What resonates with me is the story of...what to do with a country that is enslaved, and how that affected everyone."

JOE TURNER'S COME AND GONE, 7:30 p.m. Saturday (and Friday, Feb. 21), 3 p.m. Sunday, through Feb. 23, Theatre on the Square at Broadway Center for the Performing Arts, 901 Broadway, Tacoma, $19-$32, 253.573.2507

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