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EUGENE LEE

EUGENE LEE

Actor Eugene Lee believes that his friend and fellow writer August Wilson would be pleased to know that Lee is tackling his one-man show, “How I Learned What I Learned.”

“I’ve done all but two of August’s plays in my career. I knew him personally and through doing his work. What I learned from him is to be clear about storytelling,” said Lee, who worked with Wilson during the Broadway production of “Gem of the Ocean” where Lee portrayed Eli, a protector and caregiver.

Written a few years before his passing, “How I learned What I Learned” gives audiences a glimpse into his poverty-filled life in the Hill District as a young poet. All the stories are set in Pittsburgh in 1965. It was the brain-child of Wilson and his former assistant, Todd Kreidler. It was the final play that Wilson penned before his death in 2005. Ironically, Wilson performed the show solo in 2003 in Seattle where he lived at the time.

Other coming of age stories include dropping out of his school at age 15 and securing low-paying jobs like cutting grass and washing dishes to support himself. The one hour and 45 minute production, which has no intermission, also talks about Wilson working at Kroger’s grocery store and the first time he heard John Coltrane at the Crawford Grill.

In 2013, the New York premiere of the show was produced by Signature Theatre. Last year Lee performed “How I Learned What I Learned” at Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre in Atlanta. He is honored to present the show to Pittsburgh audiences.

“It’s a wonderful honor to share this with other people who knew August either personally or through his work,” Lee said.

Known today as one of the world’s most celebrated poets, Wilson’s most well-known work was his American Century Cycle, 10 plays set in Pittsburgh that discuss the African American experience for each decade of the 20th century. Wilson received two Pulitzer Prizes and a Tony Award.

Although “How I Learned What I Learned” was not one of Wilson’s more recognized works, it still sticks with his theme of the Black experience with poignant, funny and sometimes disturbing anecdotes.

“August gives everyone insight into themselves with this play. It’s a very thorough look into being Black in America and the African American experience. Everyone will be able to relate to his vulnerabilities that go along with his literary strengths. He was a cultural icon but he had disappointments with himself,” explained Lee who will head to Chicago to perform in play written by actress Regina Taylor after his month-long residency in the Steel City.

The show will play at the O’Reilly Theater, Downtown, as part of the Pittsburgh Public Theater’s 40th anniversary Season of Legends until April 5. This is the first time “How I Learned What I Learned” has ever been performed in Pittsburgh.

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