Last night I saw August Wilson’s Seven Guitars at the Court Theatre. It’s a good play and worthwhile seeing but it closes on Sunday. The play centers around blues musician Floyd “Schoolboy” Barton and six friends who live in late 1940s or early 1950s Pittsburgh. Floyd’s single has gotten popular and he has the offer to record again so he might be on the cusp of success. The play deals with many issues like race, love, violence, gender, and poverty. I was hoping there would be a bit more blues music in it since it’s about a musician. However, when they did play, it was wonderful. The blues was central to the play; characters recited blues songs to each other.
I couldn’t help to make parallels between Seven Guitars and the Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davies. Both are about struggling musicians who have recorded their first solo record. Both characters are difficult people, though you can’t help to fall for Floyd’s dreaming. He’s full of hope for a better life that no other character in the play seems to have. The best parts were when Floyd talked about his vision, or why he left his girlfriend for another woman. He’s a bastard at times, a bit of a con man but you want him to succeed. Llewyn Davies is mostly a jerk but he’s a good artist so you kinda want him to succeed. But it’s not emotional at all.
It was neat personally how much the play talked about Chicago. It was the place where one recorded and presumably got famous. Floyd spends most of the play trying to woo his girlfriend and his former band mates to go back to Chicago to record more records. At one point, he said “Chicago is a what you make it.” Oh absolutely. His view resonates with the Tom Waits song “Chicago:” “Maybe things will be better in Chicago…” One hopes but it’s also riddled with racism and false hopes.
Another favorite moment of the play was when three male characters were showing off their guns and knives to one another. It’s a bit tense and full of bravado as they debate whether guns or knives are better. And then the fourth character comes on and challenges them to eat an orange pepper. I don’t know what kind of pepper it was but you know that it’s hot as anything. The character eats it, hoots a bit, and stamps the floor. One of the gun-toting guys grabs a pepper and eats it…to find that it was more than he could handle. Brilliant. I thought it was such a wonderful takedown of the weaponry and chest thumping.
Seven Guitars closes Sunday so you should see it before it closes.