LaTanya Richardson Jackson first saw August Wilson’s “The Piano Lesson” in 1987 — it was the original production, at Yale Repertory Theater, and of course she was going to see it, because her husband, Samuel L. Jackson, was in the cast.
This fall, Richardson Jackson will direct a revival of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play, again with her husband in the cast, although in a different role.
The Broadway revival — the first since “The Piano Lesson” arrived there in 1990 — will star Danielle Brooks and John David Washington as a sister and brother at odds over whether to sell a piano on which are carved the faces of their enslaved ancestors. Jackson will play their uncle, Doaker Charles (at Yale, he played the brother).
Richardson Jackson will be the first woman to direct a Wilson play on Broadway. She is best known as an actress — in 2018, she originated the role of Calpurnia in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and in 2014, she was nominated for a Tony Award for her performance as Lena Younger in a revival of “A Raisin in the Sun.” This will be her first time directing on Broadway, but she has directed elsewhere, including a production of Wilson’s “Two Trains Running” at True Colors Theater in Atlanta.
In her view, Richardson Jackson said in an interview, the play is “about the struggle of African Americans in this country to actually face what it is that we’re against.” She noted that her own ancestors had been enslaved, and reluctant to talk about it, and she said that she sees the tension within the Charles family as a vehicle for exploring “us facing all of it.”
“I’m dealing with this as a ghost story — I’m unashamedly, unabashedly telling a ghost story,” Richardson Jackson said. “And it’s about the bigger ghosts that haunt us, that are part of our lives, that we are carrying around like an anvil.”
“The Piano Lesson” is part of a series of 10 plays Wilson wrote about African American life; each is set in a different decade of the 20th century. “The Piano Lesson” takes place in the 1930s, and, like most of the plays, is set in Pittsburgh.
The revival is scheduled to begin performances on Sept. 19 at the St. James Theater; the run is expected to last 16 weeks.
Brian Moreland (“Thoughts of a Colored Man”), Sonia Friedman (“Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”) and Tom Kirdahy (“Hadestown”) are the producers. Moreland said the play would be capitalized for about $6 million.
The producer Scott Rudin previously planned to stage a revival of “The Piano Lesson,” with many of the same artists, but relinquished the rights when he stopped producing after being accused of bullying employees and collaborators. The actor Denzel Washington, who is John David Washington’s father, last year told The Daily Mail he was planning to produce a film adaptation, with the same stars, and with Rudin as a co-producer; a spokesman for Denzel Washington said the actor is still planning to produce a film adaptation.