August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-Winning Masterpiece The Piano Lesson Starts October 22

“A play of magnificent confrontations.”—NEW YORK POST
“Haunting as well as haunted.”—

(Syracuse, NY)—In August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece The Piano Lesson, the past threatens to pull apart brother and sister. Bernice treasures a one-of-a-kind piano, an heirloom with carved figures of their enslaved ancestors. Boy Willie suddenly arrives from the South determined to sell the piano and buy the land his family worked on. When the ghost of the piano’s original owner appears, family conflicts escalate to a dramatic confrontation. With lyrical language rolling from the rowdy to the tender, this is one of Wilson’s finest.

August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson performs Oct. 22 – Nov. 9 in the Archbold Theatre at the Syracuse Stage/Drama Complex, 820 East Genesee Street. Discounted preview performances are Oct. 22 & 23. The Opening Night performance is Friday, Oct. 24 at 8 p.m. Tickets and info are available at, by phone at 315-443-3275, and in person at the Syracuse Stage Box Office, Mon-Fri, 10am-5pm. Discounts are available for groups of 10 or more at 315-443-9844. Discounts are also available for seniors, students, and U.S. military personnel and veterans. Sign interpretation, open captioning, and audio description services are available for select performances.

The Piano Lesson is the fourth play in Wilson’s Century Cycle, a collection of 10 plays documenting the African-American experience, with each play covering a different decade of the 20th century. Like all plays in the Cycle, The Piano Lesson is meant to “raise consciousness through theatre” and echo “the poetry in the everyday language of black America.” (The Paris Review)

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Timothy Bond

Timothy Bond, producing artistic director of Syracuse Stage and director of The Piano Lesson, has committed to producing all of Wilson’s Cycle at Syracuse Stage. Of The Piano Lesson, Bond said, “It’s a very powerful story, and one of the best American plays I have worked on. The plays touches upon many issues facing the world in 1936, and it does so through the lens of one family, with great passion, great humor, and great love.”

After a successful run on Broadway, The Piano Lesson received the 1990 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. New York Newsday called it “a lovely tragi-comedy…Haunting as well as haunted.” “Wonderful…A play of magnificent confrontations,” said The New York Post. The New York Times called it “a reminder of how emotionally sustaining great theatre can be.”

In writing the Century Cycle, Wilson was influenced by what he referred to as “the four Bs”: blues music, poet Jorge Luis Borges, playwright Amiri Baraka, and the painter Romare Bearden.

Romare Bearden’s collage The Piano Lesson inspired Wilson to write a play featuring a strong female figure. Said Wilson, “I try to make my plays the equal of his canvases.” Like Bearden, Wilson explores themes and motifs important to African-American culture including trains (and the related migration), hands, birds, music, and collage. (

Past Wilson productions at Syracuse Stage include Two Trains Running (2013), Radio Golf (2011), Fences (2010 & 1991), Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (2008), Gem of the Ocean (2007), Jitney (2002) and The Piano Lesson (1996). Wilson’s cycle, in order of decade which the drama is set, includes Gem of the Ocean, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, The Piano Lesson, Seven Guitars, Fences, Two Trains Running, Jitney, King Hedley II, and Radio Golf.

The Syracuse Stage cast of The Piano Lesson includes nationally accomplished “Wilsonians” known for their work on the plays of August Wilson. Returning Syracuse Stage actors include Erika LaVonn as Bernice (Risa in Two Trains Running), G. Valmont Thomas as Wining Boy (Memphis in Two Trains Running, Roosevelt in Radio Golf), Stephen Tyrone Williams as Boy Willie (Cory in Fences), and Marcea Bond as Maretha (Belinda in A Christmas Carol).

They are joined by Allison Strickland as Grace (Seattle Shakespeare Company), Ken Robinson as Avery (Broadway productions of Memphis and Baby It’s You!), Derrick Lee Weeden as Doeker (Shakespeare Theatre Company DC, Berkeley Repertory Theatre), and Yaegel T. Welch as Lymon (Lincoln Center’s Fly, NBC’s The Blacklist).

The nationally acclaimed design team includes veterans of Syracuse Stage: scenic designer William Bloodgood (The Glass Menagerie and The Whipping Man, among others), costume designer Helen Q Huang (Two Trains Running and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom); lighting designer Geoff Korf (Fences), and sound designer Michael Keck (The Glass Menagerie and The Whipping Man, among others). The stage manager is Laura Jane Collins.

The Syracuse Stage production of August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson is made possible through the support of generous sponsors. The Presenting Sponsor is The Dorothy and Marshall M. Reisman Foundation. Sponsors are Lockheed Martin and the 2014 Syracuse Symposium™ on PERSPECTIVE. Media Sponsors are Urban CNY and WAER 88.3. The 2014/15 Season Sponsor is Syracuse Media Group.


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The Coyne Gallery, located in the Syracuse Stage lobby, will feature a display created by the Onondaga Historical Association connecting The Piano Lesson to the history of Syracuse’s African America community.


Oct. 24   Opening Night Party

After the 8pm show, mingle with the cast, enjoy live music and free food
Live music featuring Ronnie Leigh

Oct. 25   Syracuse Stage Young Adult Council presents Jazz Night, with performances by local high school jazz ensembles
6:45-7:30 p.m. in the Sutton Pavilion

Oct. 26   Prologue at 1 p.m.
  An intimate 20-minute pre-show discussion with actors. Bring your questions!

Oct. 26    Panel Discussion – “Perspective/Audience: Matters of Race in Viewing the Plays of August Wilson” sponsored by the 2014 Syracuse Symposium™ on PERSPECTIVE.

At 4:45 p.m. following the 2 p.m. matinee performance


  • Christian DuComb, Assistant Professor of English and Theatre at Colgate University
  • Timothy Bond, Producing Artistic Director, Syracuse Stage
  • Beth Broadway, Executive Director, InterFaith Works
  • George Kilpatrick, Executive Producer and Host, New Inspiration for the Nation

Oct. 29   Wednesday @ 1 Lecture
Lecture at 1 p.m. in the Sutton Pavilion, before the 2 p.m. matinee

Featuring Jeff Gonda, professor in the Maxwell School of Citizenship & Public Affairs at Syracuse University, on “Specters of the South: Race, Migration, and the Inscribed Histories of August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson.”

Oct. 30    “Blues Piano” Happy Hour at 6 p.m.

Free food and half-price drinks

Nov. 1 Prologue at 2 p.m.
An intimate 20-minute pre-show discussion with actors. Bring your questions!

Nov. 2     Actor Talkback
Actor Q&A following the 7 p.m. show

Nov. 6   Prologue at 6:30 p.m.
An intimate 20-minute pre-show discussion with actors. Bring your questions!