An oppression that’s invisible, ever present

Special to The Times

The Fountain Theatre’s production of “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone,” the third in the late August Wilson’s 10-play, decade-by-decade cycle about the black experience in the 20th century, resonates as a fitting memorial to a genius whose distinctive voice was stilled too soon.

“Turner” is set in Pittsburgh, as are all the plays in the cycle with the exception of “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” which is set in Chicago. It’s 1911, an era marvelously evoked by Travis Gale Lewis’ detailed set and Naila Aladdin-Sanders’ period costumes.

Modestly affluent Seth Holley (amusingly crusty Gregg Daniel), a pot maker by trade, rents rooms by the week to the blacks who are being carried along on the migratory surge from the agrarian South to the industrialized North.


Most of Seth’s tenants are just passing through, but Bynum (Adolphus Ward), a folksy shaman with strange powers, is a long-term resident with a knack for “binding” people who have come unmoored -- from their loved ones, from their rightful place in the world or, most disastrously, from their “song,” that all-important inner music that determines an individual’s destiny.

If a man loses his song, his lot is dire. Evidence the plight of Herald Loomis (Bernard K. Addison), a glowering, mysterious man who has just come north in search of his missing wife. Full of bitterness and rage, Herald hovers on a dangerous brink, poised midway between damnation and salvation.

Director Ben Bradley and an exceptional cast maximize the humor and the folkloric sweep of Wilson’s vision in a rich, loving and formidably naturalistic interpretation. Particularly worthy of mention are Ward, whose folksy benevolence makes Bynum’s powers all the more eerie, and Addison, whose character’s eventual transformation from darkness to light is dazzling, a testament to Wilson’s richly humanistic legacy.

“Turner” is essentially a ghost story, as are so many of Wilson’s works. Whether their ghosts are metaphoric or actual, Wilson’s characters are all haunted by the legacy of oppression that dogs them through the generations. “Turner” is not so much a play as an expiation, a blueprint for redemption that will live on long beyond its creator.


“Joe Turner’s Come and Gone”

Where: Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave., Hollywood

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays

Ends: May 7

Price: $25-$28

Contact: (323) 663-1525

Running time: 2 hours, 45 minutes