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The Huntington reopens with ‘Joe Turner’s Come and Gone’

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
The Huntington reopens with ‘Joe Turner’s Come and Gone’
Cast members Gray Flaherty and James Ricardo Milord PHOTO: NILE HAWVER

The Huntington has a long history with playwright August Wilson, so it’s fitting that after a two-and-a-half-year closure and restoration, the company’s newly renovated historic theater on Huntington Avenue reopens  Oct. 14 with Wilson’s “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone,” running through Nov. 13.

This play was the first Wilson work The Huntington ever produced, and it sparked a lifelong collaboration between the theater and the playwright until Wilson’s death in 2005. The Huntington has produced all of Wilson’s plays, including his autobiographical one-man show, “How I Learned What I Learned.” One of The Huntington’s most robust youth programs is the August Wilson Monologue Competition, which introduces young people to Wilson’s work.

The cast of “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone” at The Huntington. PHOTO: NILE HAWVER

“It was 1986, the start of The Huntington’s fifth season and of our 19-year collaboration with August, as we worked closely with him in residence on seven of his iconic plays until his untimely death in 2005,” says Huntington Managing Director Michael Maso, reminiscing on The Huntington’s first production of “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone.”

“With this new production in our newly renovated theatre, we honor the icon who was August Wilson, but we remember our friend,” he says. “May his spirit inspire generations of artists and audiences alike.”

Set in a Pittsburgh boarding house in 1911, “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone,” follows a makeshift community of African Americans who left the South as part of the Great Migration. Maurice Emmanuel Parent plays Seth Holly, the owner of the boarding house, and he says the 38-year-old play is more relevant than ever.

“Certain playwrights are called timeless because you put them in a certain time period and they still have modern ramifications,” says Parent. “So walk away thinking about the modern corollaries of how Black folks are being held down and unjustly denied access to resources and experiences.”

Lili-Anne Brown, director, “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone.” PHOTO: JOE MAZZA

The show takes place just one generation after the end of slavery, but the characters are still enslaved in other ways, as Black communities are still oppressed by the prison system and other societal structures today.

Just as Director Lili-Anne Brown brings fresh eyes to the celebrated Wilson play, the theater itself has been renovated while maintaining its historic foundation and details. The new space includes upgraded theatre seating, improved sightlines and new acoustic systems and other improvements. Accessibility was at the core of the redesign, allowing a broader spectrum of people to enjoy the theater. The lobby has been renamed the August Wilson lobby and will be dedicated formally on opening night of “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone.”

“I can think of no better way to welcome our community home than with August Wilson’s masterwork,” says Artistic Director Loretta Greco. “I’m especially thrilled to do so with the astounding Lili-Anne Brown at the helm and a cast that boasts so mightily of Boston artistry.”