by Sam Juliano
When the curtain rises on August Wilson’s Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, Seth is complaining to his wife Bertha about Bynum, a tenant in their Pittsburgh boardinghouse who kills pigeons for his African rituals. Seth and Bertha also commiserate about Seth’s night position at the steel mill, and his third job as a tinsmith, fabricating items sold to him by the white peddler, Rutherford Selig. Seth would actually go into the tinsmithing business himself, but cannot get approved for a loan unless he forfeits the boardinghouse, which he refuses to do. Selig stops by for his weekly Saturday business visit, buys some pots from Seth and puts in an order for some dustpans. Bynum asks Selig about the shiny man that he paid Selig–a people finder–to find for him.
Thus begins the third of Wilson’s “Century Cycle” set in 1911, of ten plays, which comprises his complete artistic output, and which chronicles ten decades of life in Pittsburgh’s “Hill District” among African-Americans that is mythic in its compelling transcription of the black experience. The title of the play basically symbolizes the American socialized system of oppression, whereby “Joe Turner” is “incarceration”, (Turner is actually a notorious Tennessee plantation owner who illegally enslaved African-Americans to work for him.) and Herald Loomis at the outset is simultaneously searching for his wife and daughter and his inner-self. (more…)