Director has inside notes on August Wilson’s ‘Piano Lesson’

Derrick Sanders

Derrick Sanders directs the UIC Theatre production of “The Piano Lesson,” which opens Friday. 


The UIC Theatre production of “The Piano Lesson” by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson opens Friday.

The play, part of Wilson’s 20th Century Cycle — 10 works about African American families set in his native Pittsburgh — is directed by Derrick Sanders, assistant professor of theatre, with UIC student actors.

Sanders, a Jefferson Award winner, brings rare insight to Wilson’s play. He began working with Wilson when Sanders was a student at the University of Pittsburgh during the late 1990s. In 2007, Sanders made his off-Broadway directing debut at the Signature Theater with Wilson’s “King Hedley II,” at Wilson’s request.

“While working with August Wilson, I gained a unique perspective in the formation of his characters and the ideas embedded in his plays,” Sanders said. “I received a glimpse of his working process of infusing blues rhythms into the poetry in his plays. I developed a keen understanding of the relationship between African American culture and the themes in the plays, as his characters seek for America to live up to it promise to its citizens.”

In the 20th Century Cycle, a different play portrays the lives of African Americans in Pittsburgh’s Hill District in different decades.

“The Piano Lesson” represents the Depression-era 1930s. The Charles family struggles over whether to sell a shared legacy — an antique piano carved to depict the faces of their enslaved ancestors — and the secret it holds. Ambition battles with uncertainty and the inexorable pull of the past.

The play will be performed in the UIC Theatre, 1044 W. Harrison St. Performance times are 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and Feb. 26, 27 and 28; 2 p.m. Sunday and Feb. 25 and March 1; and a noon student matinee Feb. 24.

Tickets are $12 students and $17 general admission at the box office, 312-996-3929, or online.


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