August Wilson’s great play The Piano Lesson, perhaps his defining work, has returned to Broadway (at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre through January 29) for the first time since its 1990 triumph there, shortly after it won the Pulitzer Prize. The revival has a few rough edges, but it’s still one of the most important offerings of the season. It’s also an implicit rebuttal to the party-line propaganda on race that has overwhelmed the stage in recent years.

The revival has a pleasing symmetry: Samuel L. Jackson, then an unknown, originated the part of the young Southern hothead Boy Willie when the play debuted at the Yale Rep in 1987. Now Jackson has returned to portray Willie’s sensible uncle Doaker Charles and is appearing for the first time onstage under the direction of his wife, LaTanya Richardson Jackson. The younger man is...


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