Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Playwright tells 'How I Learned What I Learned'


Steven Anthony Jones portrays playwright August Wilson. (Jenny Graham)


            August Wilson (1945-2005) was one of the greatest playwrights of the 20th century.

He’s best known for his 10-play cycle chronicling the Black experience in each decade of the 20th century. However, in his autobiographical “How I Learned What I Learned,” co-conceived with Todd Kreidler, he harks back to his formative years in the mostly Black Hill District of Pittsburgh. Most of the plays in the cycle are set there, too.

Presented by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley, this one-man show is performed by Steven Anthony Jones. He embodies the young person who quit high school at 16 but haunted the library, immersing himself in books.

He takes us through Wilson’s first menial jobs and his struggle to pay his rent. He also talks of Wilson’s various romantic interests, starting in seventh grade and continuing through to his marriage. Wilson’s widow, Constanza Romero, serves as costume designer, dramaturg and creative consultant for this production.

Racism is a pervasive theme. In the opening scene, Jones as Wilson wears a black T-shirt reading “I am supposed to be white” on the front and slyly says it would suit Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

In another, he talks about the difficulty of cashing a check at a Los Angeles bank, where the teller told him she didn’t have any envelopes after finally giving him his cash. A few weeks later, he cashed a check and got an envelope from a different clerk with no hassle.

Wilson describes the numerous characters he befriended and speaks lovingly of his mother.

Nina Ball’s set (lit by Xavier Pierce) is dominated by a monolithic brick wall that serves as a screen for projections designed by sound designer Rasean Davonté Johnson.

This production is directed by former TheatreWorks artistic director Tim Bond, now in the same position at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland.

It runs about an hour and 45 minutes without intermission. Though it could benefit from careful pruning, it offers fascinating, often amusing insights into Wilson’s early life.

“How I Learned What I Learned” continues through Feb. 3 at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts,” 500 Castro St. After that it will go on a Bay Area tour for a week.

            For tickets and information, call (877) 662-8978 or visit