King Hedley II

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Arena Stage's production of August Wilson's King Hedley II is a tough story of hardscrabble black life in the 1985 Hill District of Pittsburgh.

King Hedley (Bowman Wright) is an ex-con who returns to his hometown to try and restart his life. He has a scar on his face from scalp to chin and with his friend Mister (Kenyata Rogers), is selling refrigerators that have a dubious ownership. The play is set on an almost barren stage with a weathered concrete floor and cinderblocks for chairs.

Hedley and Mister want to save money from their deals (which includes a robbery) to buy a video store, which they believe will give them a ticket to the good life.

"I used to be worth $1,200 during slavery," said Hedley. "Now I'm worth $3.35 an hour. I'm going backwards. Everybody else moving forward."

King's wife, Tonya (Jessica Frances Dukes,) is trying to raise a 17-year-old daughter, Natasha, and is fed up with Hedley's anti-social life. She is pregnant with Hedley's child, but wants to abort the baby, much to the dismay of Hedley. She says that Natasha is promiscuous, and has no future. A new baby would not have much chance at a real life.

When Hedley says she must have the baby, Tonya says, "I ain't having this baby. That's all there is to it."

Hedley's life is further complicated when his mother, Ruby (E. Faye Butler,) is visited by a former boyfriend, Elmore (Michael Anthony Williams), who comes with a Derringer and a load of family secrets.

The one constant source of strength and knowledge throughout the play is a man who has the look of an Old Testament prophet with the unfortunate nickname of Stool Pigeon (Andre De Shields).

The actors are excellent, and the play brings up themes of economic disparity from 30 years ago in urban America. But it is dark, and has the feel of a Greek tragedy with themes of murder, abortion, self-destruction and revenge. There is much use of obscenities and frequent use of the N-word.

King Hedley is at Arena Stage through March 8.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015