Sunday, October 2, 2016

How I Learned What I Learned—Portland Playhouse—NE Portland

“A Stitch In Time”

This one-man drama about the early years of the great playwright, August Wilson, is performed by Victor Mack, directed by Kevin Jones, co-conceived by Todd Kreidler and produced in partnership with the August Wilson Red Door Project.  It is playing at their space, 602 NE Prescott St. (parking lot a couple blocks North on 6th), through October 23rd.  For more information, go to their site at

We don’t know what we don’t know.  We learn simply by being in a specific place in time and recording that in the fabric of our minds.  And, as I’ve found out, as did Wilson, it is sometimes not the big events that we encounter that move us, but in the small moments.  I remember his touching story of his first kiss.  It seemed to transform him and mark him for life…and yet, it was such a little thing.  Small moments…some memories are like that.

I remember a time, when I was a young man, I was walking with a friend at Cannon Beach and two young girls had gotten stuck on Haystack Rock when the tide was coming in.  They seemed to need rescuing and so my friend and I waded out and carried both of them back to shore.  We never saw them again but somehow that memory will be with me forever…and many more, larger events forgotten.  Such a little thing…and yet….

Wilson recalls his mother fondly, his days in the Hill District of Pittsburg doing menial jobs…mowing lawns, in the mail room, as a dishwasher, etc., just to pay the rent.  He remembers his friends in an artists’ colony, his time in jail, his school days in the Christmas Pageant, the magical music of John Coltrane, Snookie, his first real love, and an important lesson from his mother that he always adhered to, “Something is not always better than nothing.”  And, when attempting to forge his own artistic path, this advice from a fellow traveler, be aware of the “limitations of the instrument.”  One should strive to go beyond what is possible.  And, of course, his views on white vs. black culture.

We are all stories…and stories within stories…and his plays (many of which I’ve seen) reflect that, as they seem to be a stretch of narratives of various individuals from his past that form a Network called…Life.  Mack beautifully relates many of the incidents of Wilson’s life, keeping them earthbound and relatable so that all can identify with those small learning moments we all encounter.

Jones and Mack have conceived such a simple but powerful storytelling style that you wish it would never end.  One can glean what they can from his stories, and personalize, as needed, to make sense of our own existence.  That may be the beauty of Wilson’s writings, that he can hone his own truths and at the same time pass this magic on to you, so that you can do the same for your own world.

I recommend this show.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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