King Hedley II Background

King Hedley II Background

Playwright August Wilson set out to chronic\le the African-American experience throughout the 20th century by writing one play set in each of the decades. Of the cycle’s ten plays, King Hedley II is the ninth, set in 1985 and includes characters from Seven Guitars and Gem of the Ocean.

The story of black America at roughly the midway point of the Reagan Revolution is set in the Hill District of Pittsburgh. It is a tragedy that unfolds in the alleys and vacant lots of existing between the homes of its characters. King Hedley held its world premiere in the city in which it is set at the Pittsburgh Public Theater in 1999 before opening on Broadway in 2001. Although reviews were mixed, the good outweighed the bad, but few reached for the kind of superlatives afforded by Ben Brantley who compared Wilson’s play to Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman in his review in the New York Times.

Wilson's entire cycle—referred to variously as The Pittsburgh Cycle or the Century Cycle—deals with elements of social disparity and economic inequality, but King Hedley II takes particular aim at Reaganomics and its imaginative trickle-down theory. Suffice to say that Wilson’s take on the reality of such an economic panacea winds up portraying it in line with the nickname given it by a man who would later be become one its staunchest proponents, then-Vice President George H.W. Bush: “voodoo economics.”

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