The minute you sit down in the theater the music takes you back to another time and space–the year 1977, the place Pittsburgh’s Hill District, the location Becker’s Jitney Station. The hit music of the day links the audience and the performers together and you feel right at home watching two men playing checkers and talking “stuff.” This is your introduction to August Wilson’s “Jitney,” now playing at the Pasadena Playhouse.

“Jitney’ unfolds at Becker’s storefront jitney station. For those of you who are not familiar with the term jitney, it’s simply another term for gypsy, or an illegal or unlicensed, cab. Becker’s is located in a neighborhood where legitimate cabs will not travel. So residents in the area rely on drivers who use their own vehicles to cart them around town. Becker’s is the workplace of such drivers and there we delve into the lives of Black men who all have something to say. You laugh, you hold your breath and your heart breaks as their stories unfold. To put it bluntly, the acting is superb.

It is a story of change–and of conflict. The community where Becker’s is located is in the urban renewal stages and in less than a month Becker’s is scheduled to be closed by the city for good.

This information Becker didn’t readily share with his staff, because he is a thinking man. Becker is played by veteran television actor Charlie Robinson (best known for “Night Court”). What a delight he is to watch, very natural, commanding and right on target!

Becker is a man with a lot of anger, not so much at “the man” or “the system,” but with life itself and the card he’s been dealt because of his son. But he holds it together because he is a good man in spite of it all. But when his son ‘Booster’ (Montae Russell) returns, you see how that anger plays out in his life.

Then there is ‘Turnbo’ played by Ellis E. Williams. Talk about a gossip and troublemaker! This guy constantly stirs up mess, thinking he’s making sure folks are on the straight and narrow. He doesn’t see himself as a busybody, just a person that wants to keep people honest. But most folk don’t appreciate his efforts. Williams plays this pivotal character effortlessly, very believable and not over the top.

The rest of the ensemble cast delivers powerful performances as well. You’ve got ‘Youngblood,’ played by Larry Bates, who at first glance appears to be heading nowhere fast, with a woman and small child in his way. But looks can be deceiving. The impatience of youth really shines through in this character. ‘Youngblood’s’ love interest ‘Rena,’ played by Kristy Johnson, is the only female in the ensemble and comes across very strong in her characterization. Rena is so wrapped up in working and raising their 2-year-old son that she almost misses the good qualities in ‘Youngblood.’

Veteran actor David McKnight’s character ‘Fielding’ is a beacon of sound reasoning, even if he is a drunk. Fielding has a special gentleness that at times touches your heart and you realize there’s more to this character than meets the eye, and then you understand that’s why he drinks.

In this mix of humanity you always have to have folk who balance things out. There’s ‘Shealy’ the number’s man played by Rolando Boyce and ‘Doub’ played by James A. Watson Jr. Both characters are solid, and offer the strength needed to keep things together. Gregg Daniel is ‘Philmore,’ a good customer who likes his job and knows how to ‘blow’ his money.

August Wilson’s “Jitney” is an awarding-winning play that is ultimately heart-rending and uplifting and that invites you to be a part of the experience.

“Jitney” is performing at the Pasadena Playhouse from now until July 15. For tickets and information visit www.PasadenaPlayhouse.org or call (626) 356-7529.

Gail can be reached at gail@hollywoodbychoice.com.