August Wilson’s “How I Learned What I Learned” starring Eugene Lee opened earlier this month at BU Theatre with Wilson’s widow, Constanza Romero, on board to preserve her husband’s legacy and translate his production for future actors. The autobiographical play follows Wilson’s early years in Pittsburgh, where he sought out companionship and support through local poet communities.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright performed the one-man show himself two years prior to his death in 2005, and the production has since made several stage debuts with Romero — who met and married Wilson after meeting on-set for “The Piano Lesson” — acting as a creative consultant and costume designer. Romero, a Tony-nominated costume designer, currently lives in Portland, Ore. and calls us to discuss keeping her husband’s words alive and the Huntington’s show.
Romero worked with her late husband’s long-time director and collaborator Todd Kreidler, who worked with Wilson on the original, in reimagining the production for the Huntington.
“After [Wilson] passed, it was still too tender and emotional for Todd and myself to approach the material,” says Romero. “Three years ago, ten years after the original with August, we worked with the Signature Theater [in New York] to remount it for the first time with Ruben Santiago-Hudson.”
While the show was well received, but Romero and Kreidler were not yet satisfied. “After that show we were saying it has a lot of potential but we need a little more shaping,” she remembers. The show was redone again for the True Colors Theatre in Atlanta, GA, and then again at the Public in Pittsburgh, where much of Wilson’s storyline take place. The Huntington Theatre Company production is the fourth iteration with the two at the helm, and Romero thinks they’ve finally “hit its stride.”
“We’re not longer workshopping and developing,” she explains. “It’s grown a lot each and every stop, and it’s helped us to see what’s working and what’s not.”
The hope is that the production can be picked up by other theater companies and the character of Wilson — that is so naturally Wilson, to be played by Wilson — can again and again be played by someone new. And still, the costume remains very, very true to form.
“He had a particular style and was finicky about how things fit him, but he was an elegant man,” says Constanza. “I’ve tried to approximate and copy one of his original sport coats to fit the Eugene Lee and I think the costume design has become a very close to a study in august wilson dress, a distillation of his style. When we fit the new jacket, I got a little emotional because it was just so August Wilson.”
If you go:
August Wilson's How I Learned What I Learned
through Sunday, April 3
BU Theatre, 264 Huntington Ave.
Purchase tickets online by phone at 617-266-0800.