Are we always to be haunted by our past? August Wilson raises the question in hisPulitzer Prize-winning play "The Piano Lesson."
"There ain't no ghosts in this house," insists Boy Willie, recently returned to the home shared by his uncle and sister.
But there are. They are the ghosts of heritage and family, pride and connection. And those are the ghosts that are hardest to exorcise.
At Seminole State College, director Woodie King Jr. lets the comedy with which Wilson has gifted his characters stay at the forefront. As Boy Willie, Michael Sapp embodies the larger-than-life ne'er-do-well, prattling on while stuffing his mouth with bread, exuberantly promising to teach his young niece how to kill a chicken.
It's 1936 Pittsburgh and Boy Willie has come up from "Down South" with one thing on his mind — selling the family piano, which he owns with his sister, Berniece. He wants to use the proceeds to buy land on which their ancestors used to toil as slaves.
But Berniece is dead set against parting with the piano, the most precious heirloom the family has. Stolen from the white man who owned their predecessors, its carvings depict those slaves and provide a link to the past. Maybe it's too strong a link. Sutter, a descendant of the slave-owning family, has died — killed by a ghost, some say — and his restless spirit has been seen by more than one member of the household.
King lets his zany crew of characters laugh, bicker and fuss like a real family, meaning some lines get swallowed amid laughter and shouts. But he makes sure to slow things down for critical moments, such as when Berniece (Felichia Chivaughn) hisses, "Money can't buy what that piano cost." Or when Doaker, the hard-working uncle, quietly and intently tells the story of how the family obtained the piano.
Chivaughn comes off as unlikeably strident during her opening scene, but the script later justifies the depths of her anger. And she finds a nice contrast in a more tender scene with Boy Willie's friend Lymon (Rosney Mauger, appealingly naive).
Chivaughn also has a natural rapport with Dwayne Allen, solid and grounded as Uncle Doaker. And Joe Reed delivers a sly turn as another family stray, Wining Boy, who spends his time drinking, gambling and reliving his past glory days.
Richard Harmon's set design provides insight into the family: They live simply, almost impersonally. No knick-knacks, no clutter. Whatever they feel represents their lives is found in that piano.
After such a long buildup, the play's climactic scene and resolution feel rushed — yet maybe that's part of the lesson. Time, and its ghosts, wait for no one.
'The Piano Lesson'
• What: A Seminole State College production of the August Wilson play
Length: 2:40 including intermission
• Where: Seminole State College Fine Arts Theatre, 100 Weldon Blvd., Sanford, Building G
• When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; through Feb. 12
• Tickets: $10, $8 students and seniors