An Explosive Masterpiece at A Noise Within

Cain, Jennings, Henley. Photo by Craig Schwartz.

Whether or not August Wilson set out to pen an exact rendition of Greek tragedy King Hedley II, his 1980s play in a 10-play cycle on Black life in the United States, has the same impact as Oedipus must have done when originally performed. In a searing production helmed by Gregg T. Daniel, revelations about the life of King Hedley unspool, as conversations about the past eddy and swirl around the man who has just been released from prison. Wilson’s portrait reveals a society functioning beneath the dominant culture in the “Hill District” in Pittsburgh. 

The play also documents dawning understandings Wilson accumulated as he strove to understand his own background.  Most particularly, he learned about the syncretic incorporation of Yoruba religious structure that slaves brought into their newfound Christian beliefs.  As a recent scholastic study relates, “(Wilson’s) understanding of the role of the trickster, the warrior hero, and the divine messenger in African mythology offers insight into the subtext of Wilson’s dramaturgy.”

In the play, we learn that Hedley is not who he thinks he is, and as his true identity emerges, with dawning recognition, audiences realize they are becoming privy to the fate filled reasons for this death.  

As Hedley, Aaron Jennings brings a fresh openness to his role; while his pal Mister (Christian Henley) plays the perfect sidekick. The women; wife Tonya (Kacie Rogers) and mother-figure, Ruby (Veralyn Jones), play out the tensions in his life. But his problematic relationship to Ruby’s on-again, off-again lover, Elmore (a commanding Ben Cain), will prove his undoing. Most importantly, Gerald Rivers as Stool Pigeon effectively brings divination into the mix. 

To allow the mystery to play out, Daniel employs all the creative talent that A Noise Within is noted for. The somewhat haphazard setting by Efren Delgadillo, Jr. effectively demonstrates an urban Pittsburgh. Costuming by Mylette Nora, Lighting (Brandon Baruch) and especially, sound (Jeff Gardner), are seamless.  

We can thank A Noise Within for a unique and timely production of another of Wilson’s plays.

King Hedley II continues Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 8 pm and Saturdays at 2 and 8 pm, through April 28th,  Phone (626) 356-3100 or go online at   to purchase tickets, which start at $29. Student tickets are available at $18.