August Wilson: The Writer’s Landscape: The first-ever exhibition dedicated to the life and works of August Wilson is now open! Learn More

The Piano Lesson

Broadway Debut
April 16, 1990
Kerr Theatre

In a Pittsburgh living room in 1936, a brother and sister battle over the future of an antique piano.

Two worlds collide in The Piano Lesson: the American south, entangled in the memory and heartbreak of slavery and sharecropping, and the promise of the industrial north, alive with potential opportunities. The Great Migration lies omnipresent in each scene of the play, with trains acting as both literal and figurative vehicles in Wining Boys songs. In Doaker’s words, “Whichever way you decide to go they got a railroad that will take you there.”

The Piano Lesson would be little without the piano, conceivably Wilson’s most powerful symbol in the American Century Cycle. The motivations between Berniece and Boy Willie surrounding this familial musical instrument lie at the heart of the play’s conflict and again, these viewpoints force audiences to choose sides: should the family hold tightly to the sole vessel of its ancestral past, its stories, and its evocations, or should they exhaust every opportunity for ownership of land, potential prosperity, and even arguably, retribution?

Did you Know?

In 1990, The Piano Lesson won two prestigious awards: a Tony Award for Best Play and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. In 1995, it garnered an Emmy for Outstanding Made for TV Movie.

Charles S. Dutton played Boy Willie in both the Broadway debut and the television film. Along with winning multiple Tony Awards for his onstage brilliance.


In His Own Words

See now… if he had his own land he wouldn’t have felt that way. If he had something under his feet that belonged to him he could stand up taller. That’s what I’m talking about. Hell, the land is there for everybody. All you got to do is figure out how to get you a piece. Ain’t no mystery to life. You just got to go out and meet it square on. If you got a piece of land you’ll find everything else fall right into place.” Boy Willie, Act 2, Scene 5

August Wilson:
A Writers Landscape

August Wilson: The Writer’s Landscape, the first-ever exhibition dedicated to the life and works of the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, will open in spring 2022. The permanent exhibition will explore the people and places of Pittsburgh, where Wilson was born and raised, and which had a profound impact on shaping his worldview.

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