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Westcoast Black Theatre Production Of 'Jitney' Opens Friday

Play takes place in a gypsy cab station in Pittsburgh where men had to hustle to make a living.

Imagine having to hustle up and down the steep hills of Pittsburgh as an underground taxi driver just to help a neighbor out.

That and a whole lot more is explored in the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe's production of Jitney.

The play will open on Friday, Jan. 4 and run until Sunday, Feb. 3. All performances take place in the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe Theater at 1646 10th Way, Sarasota.

Showtimes are Tuesday-Saturday evenings at 8 pm and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Ticket price is $29.50. Reservations may be made online at www.wbttsrq.org or by calling the box office at 941-366-1505.

The play is written by August Wilson, and is the first of 10 plays that Wilson wrote in what's called his Pittsburgh Cycle. Each is set in a different decade of the 20th Century.

“August Wilson is one of America’s most well-known African-American playwrights,” said Nate Jacobs, artistic director of West Coast Black Theatre Troupe. “Over the years, our Troupe has performed many of Mr. Wilson’s plays. Always powerful and poignant, we look forward to bringing Jitney to our Sarasota audiences.”

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Jitney takes place in the 1970s and is set inside a gypsy cab station in Pittsburgh.  Regular cabs would not travel to the Hill District of the 1970s, so the residents turn to each other.  Jitney dramatizes the lives of men hustling to make a living as jitneys – unofficial, unlicensed taxi cab drivers.

The cast of nine includes eight men and one woman. WBTT audiences will recognize Will Little and Dhakeria Cunningham who have performed regularly with the Troupe for the last two years, including roles in last season’s highly acclaimed Raisin in the Sun. The other cast members include seasoned actors from as far away as Tennessee, North Carolina and Atlanta, with the bulk reigning from the Tampa Bay area. They are Alfred H. Wilson, Ron Bobb-Semple, Andrew Drake, Don Johnson, Steven McKenzy, Horace Smith and Martin Taylor.

Back to direct his fifth production with WBTT is Jim Weaver, who directed Wilson’s play, Fences, for the Troupe. Weaver was also the director of last season’s Raisin in the Sun.  Lighting Designer for Jitney will be Michael Pasquini. Set Designer is Jim Florek.

“I am glad to be back and directing at WBTT,” Weaver said. “I’m a big fan of August Wilson and am always enthused to direct any of his plays. Jitney is a period piece, harkening back to a familiar time in the 70s. It’s a dramatic play that portrays a slice of life of the characters. Instead of a story with a beginning, middle and end, Jitney gives us a peek into the lives of these characters at a particular juncture in their lives. The ultimate conclusions about the hopeful, optimistic or pessimistic ending will be up to each audience member, based on their own outlook and experiences. We hope the play will generate a lot of thought and discussion, as only live theater can do.”

The mission of WBTT is to produce plays that promote and celebrate the African-American experience, and attract diverse audiences while using its productions as a vehicle for supporting African-American artists and building the self-esteem of African-American youth. Throughout the past decade, WBTT has produced many productions locally and around the state of Florida. The company has gained a reputation for high quality, thought-provoking and entertaining performances.

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