‘Jitney’: fun in full wheel drive


Virginia Suardi and Ayomi Wolff

Putt-putt-sputter. Your car gives one last cough of the exhaust then sinks into its tires, dead. You have someplace to be with no ride. Perhaps a jitney is in order? 

“Jitney,” by August Wilson, performed at Arena Stage, successfully maintains an entertaining plot line while also dealing with themes of fatherhood, forgiveness, and mutual respect. 

 The play follows a group of men that work at an unlicensed cab service company in a slowly gentrifying neighborhood as they combat their insecurities, pride, and bitterness, all while trying to make ends meet. 

The show starts with a hubbub of high energy and a jovial tone as the characters joke and tease each other. As the play progresses, however, darker truths are revealed about the previously buoyant, jolly characters. Turnbo (Ray Anthony Thomas), the notorious gossiper of the group, reveals to the audience that Becker’s son, Booster (Francois Battiste), was in jail for 20 years on a murder charge and has just been released. Booster’s jail time becomes the subject of intense conflict throughout the show, climaxing during an impassioned argument between Becker and Booster. The scene is performed to perfection—their fury, pain, and resentment rise and fall with impeccable delivery. 

All of the actors illuminate the stage, bringing Wilson’s work to life with exuberance, fervor, and authenticity. Anthony Chisholm as Fielding was an especially notable example of the subtle genius of Wilson’s writing. With a raspy voice, nonchalant attitude, and the confidence of an experienced actor, Chisholm fully inhabits his character and entertains the audience with his elderly charm. 

Francois Battiste, as Booster, forces the audience to face the complex dynamics regarding the relationships between white women and black men, whose partnerships have historic roots in false rape accusations with racial undertones. 

Overall, Jitney was an amazing experience, full of thrills, laughs, and true depth. So jump in a taxi and stop by the Arena Stage theater for a show that will really toot your horn!