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The Piano Lesson (Hallmark Hall of Fame)
The Piano Lesson
Hallmark Hall of Fame
Actors: Charles S. Dutton, Alfre Woodard, Carl Gordon, Tommy Hollis, Lou Myers
Director: Lloyd Richards
Genres: Drama
PG     2002     1hr 35min

The only one of August Wilson's plays to be filmed (and for television, at that), this 1990 Pulitzer Prize-winner is an amazing piece of work. Adapted by Wilson and directed by Lloyd Richards, who staged it on Broadway, th...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Charles S. Dutton, Alfre Woodard, Carl Gordon, Tommy Hollis, Lou Myers
Director: Lloyd Richards
Creators: Paul Elliott, August Wilson, Brent Shields, Craig Anderson, Richard Welsh, Robert Huddleston
Genres: Drama
Sub-Genres: Family Life
Studio: Hallmark Home Entertainment
Format: DVD - Color
DVD Release Date: 12/17/2002
Original Release Date: 02/05/1995
Theatrical Release Date: 02/05/1995
Release Year: 2002
Run Time: 1hr 35min
Screens: Color
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 20
MPAA Rating: PG (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

"As long as Sutters had that piano, they had us as slaves."
Mary Whipple | New England | 12/26/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Winner of the 1990 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, August Wilson's lively domestic drama focuses on a black family in the 1930s and their piano, which dominates the living room of Doaker Charles and his niece Berniece in Pittsburgh. The piano is adorned with the faces of their slave ancestors, carved by a distant relation who was owned by the Sutter family in Mississippi before Emancipation. Berniece's brother Boy Willie, recently released from a prison farm, has come to Pittsburgh from Mississippi with his friend Lymon, determined to sell this ancient piano in which he claims half-ownership.

Charles Dutton, as Boy Willie, Berniece's brother, endows his role with a humor and good-naturedness not obvious from a reading of the play, and his passion to use the money from the sale of the piano to buy a hundred acres of Sutter farmland, which his slave ancestors once worked, is palpable. Courtney B., as Boy Willie's friend Lymon, is credulous and innocent as he explores the city, responding to its differences from the life on the farm, and bringing Berniece (Alfre Woodard) out of the grief she has borne since the shooting death of her husband three years before. Woodard herself is a fierce Berniece, protective of her young daughter and determined to preserve the piano and its heritage.

Directed by Lloyd Richards for the Hallmark Hall of Fame in 1995, the screenplay was adapted by August Wilson from his own play. A bit shorter than the original, with offensive expletives omitted for television, the script remains close to the original. When Sutter's ghost makes several appearances, the superstitions and folklore which have been part of the family's culture become both real and violent, and when Willie Boy, Lymon, Wining Boy (his gambler uncle, played by Lou Meyers), and uncle Doaker (Carl Gordon) sing, on several occasions, the viewer is reminded of the role of spirituals in black culture, their unifying spirit, and the dignity they inspired.

The appearances of Sutter's ghost and Boy Willie's battle with him create a sense of melodrama in this otherwise thoughtful battle between the reverence for the past (as seen in Berniece) and the hopes for the future (as seen in Boy Willie). As a record of the era in which many blacks left the farms for the opportunities of the city, however, the play is unparalleled in its insights. Mary Whipple
A battle between the historic past and dreams for the future
Rizzo | Denver, CO | 10/11/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"If you are seriously into dramatic theatre plays, you may agree that re-creations made for movies or televisions are often substandard to the book! In this case, the re-creation was geared toward television/movie quality rather than a reproduction of a stage theatre performance.

And if you are familiar with the works of August Wilson, you will recognize that to adher to the vernacular - spoken language of a region - is critical to the element of his works. In this DVD movie, the use of the N word was omitted and that omission is part of history.

African American playwright, August Wilson was born in 1945 and has received numerous, that include Pulitzer Prize honors, "Fences" in 1987; and "The Piano Lesson" in 1990. Each of his works chronicle a decade in black experience. The Piano Lesson takes place in the depression era, the 30's.

The story revolves around an old carved upright piano that is symbolic with rich family history that dates back to trading slaves. The carvings are stunning and each scene depicts a story filled with vivid description. The plot includes supernatural elements.

Actor Charles Dutton has performed as other characters in Wilson's plays and here he plays Boy Willie. With dreams of owning land like his ancestors, his plan involves selling a piano that belongs to him and his sister Berniece, played by the well-known Alfre Woodard. However, the piano, an heirloom, is a representation of the past and she refuses to sell it. The carvings were done by her grandfather, an enslaved plantation carpenter.

The movie version of the Piano Lesson was done quite well with some stunning performances by seasoned actors. Like any well-written play with all the elements required, it lays heavy on meaningful and lengthy dialogue.

The Piano Lesson opened onstage in 1984 and became Wilson's second Pulitzer Prize in 1990. Supposedly, this Hallmark version is shortened and since I have not read the book, I cannot say how true to the book it is. ....MzRizz
Hallmark censorship
Rizzo | 02/24/2004
(3 out of 5 stars)

"An already posted review claims that this TV version is true to August Wilson's play. Only partly--and the differences are almost certainly attributable to Hallmark. Wilson adapted his own original stage script, but this version is shorter than the original (which may be a good thing--Wilson does like to let his characters gab) and the language is very different. For example, the nice, politically correct folks who want to sell greeting cards at Hallmark no doubt forced Wilson to remove the numerous instances of the word "ni____" from his play. Some other "rough" language (which can now be heard on the evening news, much less TV fiction) also failed to pass Hallmark's censors.
The TV production also "opens" the play from its original setting in Doaker's living room and kitchen and adds a silent, visual accompaniment to Doaker's marvelous tale about the family piano.
Do these changes damage the play? No, but they certainly do alter its flavor.
On one hand, I'm very happy that this great Black American playwright allowed one of his scripts to have a TV production and that we now have this video record of that production. On the other hand, it seems a shame that Wilson had to compromise his artistry in order to reach a wider audience than theatre itself can supply."
A Lesson of My Own
Rizzo | 01/18/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I teach language arts, including drama, at a rural high school. I read "The Piano Lesson" and was hoping for a film version that I could show to my students to go along with their reading. This film is true to the play and shows viewers what happens when we don't carry on family traditions and make good use of the gifts and talents we have. The cast and production crew have done a marvelous job of creating a compelling version of this Pulitzer Prize winning play. I highly recommend it for its many levels of enjoyment and learning."