Like Ibsen and Shaw before him, August Wilson (1945–2005) promised theatergoers an instructive portion of sociological lament, but in Wilson’s case the implied additional value was first-person verisimilitude, reportage, personally witnessed truths coaxed out of little-explored corners and held up for examination. Wilson was black, and black American artists carry the expectation, or burden, of presumed authenticity. He did not disappoint. In his monumental ten-play cycle chronicling one episode of working-class black American life for each decade of the twentieth century, Wilson built from the ground up: his characters are his plays. Far from being teased and coaxed to produce in the bourgeois white theater-loving audience a reassuring takeaway about its own paramount responsibility for the plight of blacks, Wilson’s strivers and schemers create a sense that we’re eavesdropping on real...


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