By Troy Carter II
The New Orleans Tribune
The struggles of the Black community, the power of resilience, and the unwavering demand for respect. These are themes that flow through the beautifully written and performed autobiography of the late Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson.
The legendary Black playwright’s “How I Learned What I Learned” will be showing in New Orleans at the Le Petit Théâtre from April 20 – May 7, 2023. Wilson, who died in 2005, originally starred in the play himself.
“Treme” actor, Lance Nichols is the star of this one-man play. He is well known for memorable performances in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and “Into the Badlands.”
Through a collaboration between the Le Petit Théâtre and the Portland Stage, the show just wrapped in Portland, Maine. The Portland audience was mostly white but coming to New Orleans’ more ethnically diverse audience, Nichols expects the performance to hit home even harder, he says.
“He was a Black man who had the same struggles that, unfortunately, a lot of us still deal with today – disenfranchisement, poor housing, gentrification, profiling, all that stuff that August talks about in this thing, man, sadly, in 2023, you’re still dealing with.” Nichols says.
Nichols hopes that the play can serve as an inspiration for disenfranchised youth who might see themselves in Wilson’s story.
Wilson, a Pittsburgh native, who is best known for a series of ten plays, which chronicle the experiences and heritage of the African-American community in the 20th century, including “Fences”, “The Piano Lesson”, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”, and “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone”, dropped out of high school at 15 years old and got his education between the Pittsburgh Public Library and the turbulent streets of the city’s Hill District.
“I think a lot of times people think you know, okay, well I didn’t finish school and there’s no future for me and that’s not true.”
Wilson’s decision to leave high school came after he turned in an essay to his teacher, who accused him of plagiarism. He felt disrespected, and left. As a playwright, respect would become a common theme for Wilson.
“Demand respect. If it costs you your life, then you have lived a good life and died an honorable death,” Nichols says, quoting from Wilson, and citing the relevance of demanding respect during the era of Jim Crow racism.
To purchase tickets for August Wilson’s “How I Learned What I Learned” at Le Petit, call the box office at 504-522-2081 x 1 or visit https://www.lepetittheatre.com/.