Jitney (play)

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Jitney handbill.jpg
Written byAugust Wilson
Date premiered1982
Place premieredAllegheny Repertory Theatre
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Original languageEnglish
SeriesThe Pittsburgh Cycle
Setting1977, a worn-down gypsy cab station in Pittsburgh's Hill District

Jitney is a play by August Wilson. The eighth in his "Pittsburgh Cycle", this play is set in a worn-down gypsy cab station in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in early autumn 1977. The play premiered on Broadway in 2017.


Jitney was written in 1979 and first produced at the small Allegheny Repertory Theatre, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1982. When Wilson took his mother to see that production they arrived by jitney. That was followed by a separate production at Penumbra Theatre in St. Paul, Minnesota. After Wilson had a series of plays produced on Broadway, Eddie Gilbert, artistic director of the Pittsburgh Public Theater, read the 1979 script and asked to produce it.

In response, Wilson returned to Pittsburgh in 1996 re-writing it extensively for what is referred to as its professional premiere, which was directed by Marion McClinton. This was the first Pittsburgh Cycle premiere not to be directed by Lloyd Richards. Over the next four years there were up to 20 productions nationwide, many with the same core cast as in Pittsburgh, including the 1997 production at the Crossroads Theatre in New Jersey, which was directed by Walter Dallas, and the 1998 production at Boston's Huntington Theatre Company, directed by McClinton.[1]

Wilson continued working on the script. Jitney opened Off-Broadway at the Second Stage Theatre on April 25, 2000 and closed on September 10, because another play was coming in.[2] The play next moved to the Union Square Theatre on September 19, 2000 where it closed on January 28, 2001.[3] Jitney ran successfully Off-Broadway, and was the only one of the 10 Pittsburgh Cycle plays not to appear on Broadway, possibly because Wilson's previous play had lost money, making investors cautious. Directed by Marion McClinton, the cast featured four actors who had been with it almost continuously since 1996: Anthony Chisholm (Fielding), Paul Butler (Becker), Willis Burks (Shealy) and Stephen McKinley Henderson (Turnbo).

Jitney went on to London, and ran at the National Theatre's Lyttelton Theatre from October 16, 2001, through November 21, 2001. It won the Olivier Award for best play of the year. Directed by McClinton, it featured much of the New York cast.[4][5]

McClinton's production moved to San Francisco's Curran Theatre in early 2002.[6]

The play has been performed often in regional theater, including at the Studio Theatre in Washington, D.C., in 2001,[7] the Denver Center for the Performing Arts in 2002, Ford's Theatre, Washington, D.C. in 2007,[8] and the Kennedy Center, Washington, D.C. in 2008.[9]

The Broadway premiere of Jitney began previews at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre on December 28, 2016 and opened on January 19, 2017. The play closed on March 12, 2017.[10][11] The play, produced by the Manhattan Theatre Club, is directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson.[12][13]


  • Jim Becker, the well-respected manager of the jitney station. In his 60s.
  • Doub, a driver, cautious and slow going, a Korean War veteran
  • Fielding, a driver, an alcoholic, formerly a tailor who clothed Billy Eckstine and Count Basie.
  • Turnbo, a driver, notorious for being a gossip
  • YoungBlood (Darnell Williams), a driver. Recently returned from Vietnam, working several jobs to provide for his family. In his late 20s.
  • Rena, YoungBlood's girlfriend and the mother of his young son, Jesse.
  • Shealy, a flamboyant bookie who uses the jitney station as the basis of his operations.
  • Philmore, a local Hotel doorman and a frequent jitney passenger.
  • Booster (Clarence Becker), Becker's son, who has just completed a 20-year prison sentence for murder. In his early 40s.


Regular taxi cabs will not travel to the Pittsburgh Hill District of the 1970s, and so the residents turn to jitneys—unofficial, unlicensed taxi cabs—that operate in the community. This play portrays the lives of the jitney drivers at the station owned by Jim Becker.

We are rapidly introduced to the regulars of the station: recently returned Vietnam veteran Darnell (called Youngblood by the other drivers) who is attempting to build a new life for himself and his family, solid, easy-going Korean War veteran Doub, gossipy hothead Turnbo, alcoholic Fielding and flamboyant numbers runner Shealy, who is not a driver but who uses the station's phone as his base of operations. Conflict arises when Turnbo insinuates himself into Youngblood's love life, telling Youngblood's girlfriend Rena that he has been seen around town with her sister when he should have been at home with their young son. Despite his protestations of innocence, she accuses Youngblood, who has been acting secretly and has taken money needed for groceries to pay a vague "debt", of cheating on her, which he has done in the past. Youngblood attacks Turnbo for causing trouble and Turnbo pulls a gun on him, threatening to shoot him, but station boss Becker intervenes.

Becker's son, Clarence (nicknamed Booster) is released early from Prison after serving 20 years for the murder of his college girlfriend, a white woman who had falsely accused him of rape. Becker has not visited him in prison once during that span, furious that he sacrificed his life to provide for Booster's future only for him to throw it away on needless revenge. Booster comes to the station anxious to reconcile with his father, but Becker refused to listen to him, furiously blaming him for his mother's death, who died of grief after Booster was sentenced to death. Angry recriminations are thrown on either side and Becker disowns his son.

News arrives that the building housing the station is to be condemned by the city and the drivers resolve to fight the eviction. Youngblood admits to Rena that his secretive behavior has been because he has been saving up to buy a house, which her sister was helping him with as a surprise. Rena admonishes him for not his deception but acknowledges that he has changed, and they reconcile.

Tragedy strikes unexpectedly when Becker, who has taken a second job at the steel mill where he worked for 17 years before retiring, is killed in an industrial accident. Booster breaks down in agony on hearing his father is dead, but at the end of the play appears ready to take his place as the head of the Jitney station.[14][15]

Awards and nominations[edit]



  1. ^ Christopher Rawson (June 25, 2000). "Stage Reviews: Wilson's 'Jitney,' 'King Hedley II' have become clearer, tighter since leaving Pittsburgh". The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved 12 May 2012.
  2. ^ " Jitney Second Stage Theatre" lortel.org, retrieved January 20, 2017
  3. ^ " Jitney Union Square Theatre" lortel.org, retrieved January 20, 2017
  4. ^ "Archive Page for 'Jitney'" albemarle-london.com, retrieved April 17, 2010.
  5. ^ " Jitney Lyttelton" theatricalia.com, retrieved January 20, 2017
  6. ^ Michael Scott Moore (20 March 2002). "Jitney: A fresh look at August Wilson's first play, an intense story about cabdrivers in a black area of Pittsburgh". SF Weekly. Retrieved 2016-06-01.
  7. ^ Jacqueline Trescott. "Jitney — August Wilson's Funky 70's Ride". SeeingBlack. Archived from the original on 2008-07-25. Retrieved 2008-09-28.
  8. ^ Nelson Pressley (27 January 2007). "At Ford's, Jitney Still Has Some Gas". The Washington Post. pp. C01. Retrieved 2008-09-28.
  9. ^ "'Jitney' listing" Archived 2011-06-13 at the Wayback Machine kennedy-center.org, retrieved April 17, 2010.
  10. ^ David Gordon (16 May 2016). "August Wilson's Jitney to Receive Long-Awaited Broadway Premiere". TheaterMania. Retrieved 2016-06-01.
  11. ^ Lindsey Sullivan (30 November 2016). "The Cast of August Wilson's Jitney Is Poised for the Play's Broadway Debut". Broadway.com. Retrieved 2017-01-06.
  12. ^ Viagas, Robert (January 19, 2017). "See What the Critics Had to Say About August Wilson's Jitney on Broadway". Playbill. Retrieved January 20, 2017.
  13. ^ Clement, Olivia. "August Wilson’s 'Jitney' Closes March 12" Playbill, March 12, 2017
  14. ^ Kyle Brenton (2012). "One Man's Century: August Wilson's Ten-Play Cycle". Berkeley Repertory Theatre. Retrieved May 12, 2012.
  15. ^ Wilson, August. Jitney. Samuel French, Inc. (January 11, 2011). ISBN 978-0573627958

Further reading[edit]

  • Brad Bradley (9 April 2001). "Jitney". curtainup. Retrieved 2008-09-28.
  • Wilson, August (2000). Jitney (First ed.). Woodstock, New York: Overlook Press. ISBN 1-58567-186-X.

External links[edit]