It’s 1985 and papers are full of drive by shootings. There is no work. In the Hill District of Pittsburgh PA and across the nation people are trying to grow opportunity out of rocky soil. The times are violent on multiple levels. It’s a hard time to be born into and a hard time to raise a family or define it once it’s been busted asunder and not yet quite found its way back together.
King Hedley, II the unborn child of Ruby in Seven Guitars is a grown man who is trying to grow himself a life. The soil he has inherited is rocky and hard but its “him” he must make life out of what he has been given like Rose instructs Cory in Fences. You have no choice but to make life from what you have. How can you otherwise. As Lyons quotes Troy to Cory in reflecting upon Troy’s life, “You got to take the crooked with the straights”. Lyon’s reflection comes at the event of Troy’s death where we are given the image of him finally striking out and death claiming him. I note he lives on in Lyon’s carrying forth of his philosophy of life. You have to work with what you have but what if its not enough? Then, what to do?
King has crookeds he is trying to make straight. He is determined to put something in the world. Determination to strive demands you make what does not exist. “If the wind don’t blow your way”, you must find a way to harness the wind. King like Floyd Barton before him in Seven Guitars, like Levee in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom carry the dark seed of desire to move forward in the world. They will create their own wind even if they are consumed in the vortex it creates. They are the will to go forward wrapped in steel. Marked in third grade as unruly King tries his best to live in a world that is too small for him. He can’t fit in so he must make it bigger. He wants to grow something so he plants a seed. He declares its right to live. He takes a chance even though he only has rocky ground. He tends and defends his seed hoping to grow wind that blows his way.
Even in his desire to grow something he travels with a Glock nine mm looking to murder a man. He feels he must in order to be in the world. The world in which it can come down to me or him in a second and one transgression demands another, and then another. In a world where honor is spelled in blood and manhood is defined by who is left standing even if it cost chunks of your life. In this world being jailed and prison time are still common tales. Remember how Wilson bends time. Then is now. Now is then. “Still, “refers to moving forward from Joe Turner has Come and Gone. King has done time for one murder. A man cut him and he eventually killed his assailant who he remembers as “simple ass Pernell, – a sneaky motherfucker”. Now Pernell’s cousin is stalling him because this world demands blood for blood. Blood is a theme in King Hedley, II.
Blood as life, as a lifeline, as honor, as currency to a better safer life, as the gift of life and as cause for death all these iterations play out in this blood play. King Hedley, II believes his father is Hedley, I. Floyd Barton who took his last chance trying to create opportunity for his life in Seven Guitars was murdered by Hedley, I, who takes him for the ghost of Buddy Bolden who he believes is bringing him his fathers money. Hedley kills Floyd with a machete. The machete is given to King along with the task to wipe the blood off of it. We wade in blood cycles trying to find a way to make something grow. King is a tragic figure worthy of Sophocles or Shakespeare. Is he sacrifice or the forerunner for the Messiah who will redeem us from the cycles of blood in which we as a people are drowning in as I write?
Ester dies in this play but as the Soothsayer, (Truth Sayer), Stool Pigeon says the door to her house has long been blocked and the path grown over. King says he was told she died of grief. Stool Pigeon confirms it, “died with her hand stuck to her head, in 366 years she ain’t seen nothing but grief, it all ganged up on her.” When Ester dies a terrible storm rises and lights go out as houses are blown down across the town and her black cat dies. We wait for the blood that will bring her back if she has not yet used up her nine lives.
The nation within the nation a black cat with nine lives landing on its feet after blood bath after blood bath, struggling on, praying, trying to plant, waiting for a rebirth of life big enough for dreams of thriving. A hot dark slice of land with hard dirt full of rocks and pitfalls that end in blood is where King tries to grow life. I recognize this blasted landscape as being the geography of our lives. The systems with different rules, the set ups, the predictable downfalls, and the determination to go forward are familiar. The men we will meet here are men we know. Men waiting for opportunity, following the dream, making the dream, and killing the dream are all here waiting for us to overstand how they became who they are, to make us want them to find peace, for us to overstand the need for blood in blood out rituals, last chances, and dreaming anyway.
Come and see where it leads us.
King Hedley plays though September 6th at The Flight Deck in Oakland CA. Starring The Lower Bottom Playaz, Inc who are dedicated to staging the Century Cycle by August Wilson in chronological order. With King Hedley they open Season16.Continua: The American Century Cycle Project. Hedley is the 9 of a 10 play cycle also referred to as the Pittsburgh Cycle.