In analyzing any of August Wilson's works, one should get down to basics -- those commonalities that recur in play after play. 

First, there's the richness of the vernacular -- that folksy, funny, sagaciously idiomatic dialogue. Then there's the resilience of the characters, embattled survivors scrapping for a foothold in the American dream. Lastly, most profoundly, is the relinquishment of dreams, the characters' dawning realization that their struggles and most ardent aspirations are doomed --  by circumstance, by societal strictures or by simple human frailty. 

Those three ingredients are manifest throughout the Pittsburgh Cycle -- the series of 10  plays, mostly set in Pittsburgh's Hill District, that traces the lives and fortunes of various African American characters throughout the 20th century, decade by decade. One would be hard-pressed to single out the best of the cycle. Certainly, “Jitney,” Wilson's first drama, written when he still fancied himself more poet than playwright, is at the very top of the list. 

Director Ron OJ Parson's near-optimum current staging at South Coast Repertory unearths the rich humor, mingled with nearly unbearable poignance, that is also typical of Wilson's work. 

"Jitney," set in 1977, takes place in a run-down jitney office on the Hill, a milieu perfectly evoked in Shaun Motley's evocatively mildewed set, replete with big, fly-specked windows that look as if they haven't been washed since the 1950s. 

This is very much a man's preserve, ruled over by Becker (Charlie Robinson), whose employees, clad in Dana Rebecca Woods' hilariously hideous period costumes, include Becker's staunch second-in-command, Doub (James A. Watson Jr.); humorous meddler Turnbo (Ellis E. Williams); shambling alcoholic Fielding (David McKnight); and Youngblood (Larry Bates), a Vietnam vet whose efforts to surprise his girlfriend, Rena (Kristy Johnson), with a house in the suburbs have sadly backfired. Then there's Philmore (Gregg Daniel), a hotel worker who frequently requires a cab after his latest bender, and numbers runner Shealy (Rolanda Boyce), who uses the jitney office as his de facto headquarters. 

It's a bickering, boisterous group, very much an extended family, with Becker as the sternly benevolent paterfamilias. But a planned urban-renewal project may soon deprive the men of their livelihoods. And the release from prison of Becker's son, Booster (Montae Russell), once a science whiz with a full college scholarship who wound up serving 20 years for murder, reopens a Pandora's box of pain for Becker, not one to forgive or forget. 

In a contemporary context of helicopter parents and tiger mothers, Becker's outright rejection of his penitent son may seem cruelly draconian, but his unbending rectitude and rage are also oddly heroic. A towering presence, Robinson gives only the occasional glimpse of the terrible effort it takes to maintain his stoical facade. It's a magnificent performance, well balanced by his fellow cast members, especially the wonderful Williams, whose deceptively uproarious character takes a sudden turn, and McKnight, whose boozy, dapper dreamer seems destined for a sad end. 

Oddly stiff early on, Russell compensates for that deficit with the raw emotionalism of his subsequent scenes. And as Rena, Johnson's bandbox, Barbie-perfect appearance seems bizarrely misplaced here. She requires rumpling, and the sooner the better. 

The run will move to the Pasadena Playhouse after closing in Costa Mesa. 

Jitney,” South Coast Repertory’s Segerstrom Stage, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa.  7:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays, 2:30 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Sundays.  Ends June 10.  $20-$68.  (714) 708-5555.  Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes. 

June 21 through July 15 at the Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena.  8 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays; 4 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays.  $19-$100.  (626) 356-7529.