“How I Learned What I Learned,” an autobiographical solo show, offers up a look at the life of the late Pulitzer Prize winning playwright August Wilson. NY1's Roma Torre filed the following review.
When I was growing up in Pittsburgh, my mother used to say real education starts outside the classroom. That certainly applied to another Pittsburgher, August Wilson. The late great dramatist dropped out of school at age 15 and went on to become one of our most celebrated playwrights. Ten years ago he wrote a one-man show for himself entitled "How I Learned What I Learned,” and now, captivatingly performed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson, it’s a fascinating if rambling chronicle of a young writer’s coming-of-age.
Wilson grew up in the Hill District, a largely segregated swath of neighborhoods filled with dead-ends – real and metaphorical. Poverty, hopelessness, unemployment were the dominant themes in Wilson’s early years, and when he dropped out of school, he set himself on a circuitous path of self-discovery.
As a teen, Wilson fancied himself a poet. And that poetic bent, so infused in his plays, was cultivated by years spent in the library and on the streets soaking up the real education he couldn’t get in school.
He was influenced as much by the culture of slavery and world history as the misfits and artists who became his friends…later serving as models for the characters in his Century Cycle masterpieces.
Direction by Todd Kreidler, who also co-conceived, is crisp; and the set, featuring suspended pages with projected typewritten titles, is nicely evocative.
Santiago-Hudson, whose own career is steeped in the works of Wilson – both as actor and director, is an inspired interpreter. He captures the many dimensions of this self-described rascal. Wilson was, in fact, the best of all his characters - fiercely proud, intellectually astute and naturally funny.
The material tends to come off as random, and from almost anyone else, it would seem disjointed. But August Wilson is special. And in the words of another great playwright, attention must be paid.