Seven Guitars

“Seven Guitars” Rocks Two River Theater

Seven Guitars, directed by Brandon J. Dirden and currently being performed at the Two River Theater in Red Bank, NJ, is an emotional ride comprised of fantastic performances and an immersive story. 

The play, written by August Wilson in 1995 and first performed in 1996 on Broadway, takes place in the year 1948 in the backyard of a Pittsburgh Hill District home. It focuses on seven African American characters, one being Floyd “Schoolboy” Barton (Kevin Mambo), a blues singer who is released from jail to find that his recently released song is a hit. Offered the chance at a record deal from a major label in Chicago, he decides to return to see his old girlfriend Vera (Christina Acosta Robinson), and persuade her and some old friends to join him in Chicago. 

Wilson, famous for plays such as Fences and regarded as one of the most influential American playwrights, explores themes and ideas in his work that are relevant in contemporary times. Racial prejudice, masculinity, the influence of women on men, and the idea of taking chances are all explored, and Dirden uses these as the main focus of the play. 

Dirden, in his directorial debut and also an actor himself, brings the audience into the world of these characters and sucks them into their stories. He also balances the tone of the play perfectly: it has its poignant, heart-wrenching moments, but it can also be hilarious and stirring. Despite the longer length (with an intermission the entire runtime is about two hours and 45 minutes), there is no moment that feels out of place or unimportant. From just the mundane moments in these characters’ interactions, Dirden fleshes these people out more and keeps the audience invested in what happens to them. 

One thing the Two River Theater excels in is getting amazing actors who put their all into their performances. Each of the seven actors in the play are masters in making these characters come alive and are expertly able to keep the naturalistic feel of the play intact. Crystal A. Dickinson is hilarious and compelling as Louise, an outspoken woman who is unafraid to live her own life after her husband left her. Her character tries to guide Vera and Ruby, Louise’s niece (Brittany Bellizeare), by advising them to make their own decisions and trust themselves over any man in their lives. Robinson is also great as Vera, who struggles with not wanting to trust the man who left her while still loving him regardless. 

But easily the best performance of the play belongs to Brian D. Coats, who brought such a high intensity to the troubled Hedley that it is almost impossible to look away when he is onstage. The character is unpredictable and mentally unstable, and a weaker performance could easily make the character feel over-the-top. Coats, though, is able to bring all the instability to Hedley while keeping the character compelling and sympathetic. 

One of the biggest stars of Seven Guitars is easily the set. It is a stunning, comprehensive set of the backyard of Vera, Louise, and Hedley’s home with small, ornate details. The house itself has a strange beauty considering it is made to look rundown and dilapidated. The house, the garden off to the side that plays an important role in the story, the dusty stage and the old chairs in the center of the stage all bring personality to the setting, making it feel lived in and real. It blends into the story and grabs the audience’s attention when necessary. 

This goes similarly for the beautiful costumes, which capture the time period and are absolutely stunning. One scene in particular, during which all the characters get dressed up to go to a local club and watch Floyd play, is almost a show in itself of the elaborate dresses on the women and the slick suits on the men. 

Overall, Seven Guitars is an emotionally rich and moving play. It is just another example of the outstanding productions the Two River Theater is putting on, making it one of the best theaters for Broadway quality plays and musicals close to home. This play should not be missed by anyone looking for something that will not only stir your emotions, but also be an unforgettable theater experience.