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The American Century Cycle

August Wilson’s ten-play American Century Cycle explores the heritage and experience of African Americans, decade by decade, over the course of the 20th century. Seattle Rep was an artistic home for Wilson, and over the last few decades, Seattle Rep has become one of the few theaters in the nation to produce the full cycle.

1900s - Gem of the Ocean (2003)

Aunt Ester, the community’s spiritual advisor, attempts to help Citizen Barlow find spiritual redemption through the awakening of the City of Bones. Performed at Seattle Rep in 2007.

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Michele Shay, Khalil Kain, and Allie Woods in Seattle Rep’s Gem of the Ocean (2007). Photo by Chris Bennion.

1910s - Joe Turner’s Come and Gone (1986)

Taking place in a boarding house, residents and families struggle to find one another and their individual places in society. Performed at Seattle Rep in 1987. A Spanish adaptation of the play, Joe Turner Vino y Se Fue, was workshopped in summer 2019 in collaboration with local Seattle company Latino Theatre Projects and spearheaded by long-time Seattle Rep Associate Artist and Wilson’s widow, Constanza Romero.

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Kim Burroughs and Ellen Holly in Seattle Rep’s Joe Turner’s Come and Gone (1987). Photo by Chris Bennion.

1920s - Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (1984)

The only play set outside of Pittsburgh’s Hill District. In a Chicago recording studio, the characters deal with issues of politics, philosophy, art, and religion set to the backdrop of historical exploitation of black musicians by white managers. Performed at Seattle Rep in 2005.

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Cynthia Jones and the cast of Seattle Rep’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2005). Photo by Chris Bennion.

1930s - The Piano Lesson (1987)

In the aftermath of the Great Depression, a family fights over whether or not to sell a piano, which has carved into it the faces of their greatgrandparents who were enslaved. Performed at Seattle Rep in 1993 and 2015.

MG 3244 crop f2lihcStephen Tyrone Williams, Derrick Lee Weeden, Yaegel T. Welch, and G. Valmont Thomas in Seattle Rep’s The Piano Lesson (2015). Photo by Chris Bennion.

1940s - Seven Guitars (1995)

The play opens with Floyd Barton’s funeral, transitioning into a series of flashbacks, illustrating the events that led up to his death. Performed at Seattle Rep in 1997.

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Leslie DoQui and Alex Morris in Seattle Rep’s Seven Guitars (1997). Photo by Chris Bennion.

1950s - Fences (1985)

The plot centers on a difficult father-son relationship, with the discussion of the race barrier in the workplace and professional sports as the backdrop. Performed at Seattle Rep in 1986 and 2010.

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Stephen Tyrone Williams and Kim Staunton in Seattle Rep’s Fences (2010). Photo by Chris Bennion.

1960s - Two Trains Running (1990)

Set in the restaurant of Memphis Lee, this play covers civil unrest and the changing political philosophy of urban blacks. Performed at Seattle Rep in 1991 and 2018.

DSC 0889 resized xcp3hcEugene Lee, Reginald André Jackson, and David Emerson Toney in Seattle Rep’s Two Trains Running (2018). Photo by Nate Watters.

1970s - Jitney (1982)

Faced with the devastating news that the city is about to shut down their unlicensed cab company, Becker and his drivers struggle to confront an uncertain future. Performed at Seattle Rep in 2002 and 2020 (the 2020 run was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic).

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Russell Andrews and Stephen McKinley Henderson in Seattle Rep’s Jitney (2002). Photo by Chris Bennion.

1980s - King Hedley II (1999)

One of Wilson’s darker plays, it features Hedley, an ex-con trying to rebuild his life. The play overlaps with characters from Seven Guitars. Performed at Seattle Rep in 2000.

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Tony Todd in Seattle Rep's King Hedley II (2000). Photo by Chris Bennion.

1990s - Radio Golf (2005)

Harmond Wilks, a lawyer running to be the first black mayor of Pittsburgh, is eager to declare the remaining homes of the Hill District “a blight” in order to make room for commercial redevelopment. One of the remaining homes is the ancestral house of Aunt Ester. Performed at Seattle Rep in 2006.

SRT RadioGolf 016 tzhugcJames A. Williams and Rocky Carroll in Seattle Rep's Radio Golf (2006). Photo by Chris Bennion.