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The Piano Lesson

(The Century Cycle #4)

3.81  ·  Rating details ·  6,922 ratings  ·  347 reviews
August Wilson has already given the American theater such spell-binding plays about the black experience in 20th-century America as Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Joe Turner's Come and Gone, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning, Fences. In his second Pulitzer Prize-winner, The Piano Lesson, Wilson has fashioned his most haunting and dramatic work yet. At the heart of his play stands ...more
Paperback, 108 pages
Published December 1st 1990 by Plume
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Ashleyflores i say no because all she wants is for that piano to stay in her house because its the memory of her ansesters and all the tears her mom cried on it an…morei say no because all she wants is for that piano to stay in her house because its the memory of her ansesters and all the tears her mom cried on it and all the work her mom did on that piano.(less)
Jaden Stokes I think Bernice is a bitch because instead of letting boy Willie sell the piano for half of Sutter land and taking half the money she kept him from ta…moreI think Bernice is a bitch because instead of letting boy Willie sell the piano for half of Sutter land and taking half the money she kept him from taking something she hasn't touched for years.(less)
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Average rating 3.81  · 
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 ·  6,922 ratings  ·  347 reviews

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Dec 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
During the 1930s, African Americans began the great migration north as they sought to fulfill the American dream. Part of August Wilson's Century cycle of plays, The Piano Lesson introduces the Charles family of Pittsburgh as they struggle to get ahead during the Depression. A winner of both the Pulitzer Prize for drama and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award, The Piano Lesson focuses on a family at a crossroads, as they grapple whether to move forward with the American dream or to return to ...more
Lauren Cecile
Apr 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Can't wait for Denzel to make this into a movie. ...more

"Berniece ain't gonna sell that piano.".

Set in Pittsburgh, this haunted story of the history behind and conflict over a 137 year old ornately carved upright piano has everything I love in a drama. Unforgettable characters with animated humorous voices, the presence of a determined spirited visitor, and a storyline that takes the reader places you didn't expect to go into the past.

"Berniece ain't gonna sell that piano."

How in the world did a 350 pound man fall down his well? How did

Courtney H.
May 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: century-cycle
Because what follows is too long and not really a review (which is particularly terrible given that I'm reviewing a playwright whose brilliant brevity would make Hemingway envious), I'll start with this (which I do not say lightly): The Piano Lesson should be on everyone's personal required reading list.

The Piano Lesson was my first foray into Wilson, and the only one I've been lucky enough to see performed (twice, both brilliantly, once in Washington DC and once at Yale Rep). Wilson is a master
Connie G
Mar 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
Boy Willie: If Bernice don't want to sell that piano. . . I'm gonna cut it in half and go on and sell my half.

The Piano Lesson is the fourth play in August Wilson's ten play Century Cycle about African-American life in the 20th Century. Boy Willie wants to sell a piano that he and his sister, Bernice, inherited. Their ancestor, a slave master craftsman, constructed the piano and carved scenes and people from their family history into the piano legs. Bernice does not want to sell this family trea
Erika Schoeps
Aug 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
3.5 Stars

A short and sweet play about a family feud over a family piano. My brother recommended this book to me. My brother is really interested in chemistry, and doesn't like to read; so when he recommends something, I check it out.

The characters are well-developed, and their motivations and desires are well-presented and played out. The introductions were interesting, and the story progressed at a solid pace as the tension slowly increased. By the climax, the passive aggressive behavior of th
Jun 02, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: black-writers
The Piano Lesson is a 1987 play by American playwright August Wilson. It is the fourth play in Wilson's The Pittsburgh Cycle. It was recommended to me by the lovely Yamini.

Wilson began writing this play by playing with the various answers regarding the possibility of “acquir[ing] a sense of self-worth by denying one's past”. However, on finishing his play, Wilson found the ending to stray from the empowered Berniece as well as from the question regarding self-worth. What The Piano Lesson finall
Feb 10, 2021 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I really struggled to connect with this fourth play in August Wilson's Century Cycle, a bit of a surprise considering it won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1990.

Set in 1936, it tells the story of Berniece, a widow and single mother still grieving the tragic death of her husband several years earlier, and her younger brother "Boy Willie," an energetic, ambitious entrepreneur who returns from the South to show up on the doorstep of their Uncle's Pittsburgh home early one morning.

Boy Willie want
Another Wilson play that was just okay. I wanted to learn more about the piano, but the characters never really get around to explains what exactly is so important and symbolic about the piano that it must be kept within the family. I feel like this would be an amazing play to see onstage since the final scene has so much action and the characters have so much dialogue between themselves that causes for the reader to need to actually see it acted out instead of just reading it in a book.

I will s
Nov 20, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: plays
Do we give up on artifacts tied to our history as an investment for the betterment of our future or do we use them as an inspiration to build a better future for ourselves?

The piano becomes focal point that drives the conversation between siblings about civil war, slavery, family history and remembering injustices of the past.
Incredibly simplistic but full of meanings, symbolism, and interesting explorations of double consciousness. Wilson clearly seemed to be very good at what he did. Would love to try more of his plays in the future.
Sep 02, 2011 rated it did not like it
The Piano Lesson is about two siblings fighting over an antique piano that has been with their family ever since it'd been made. I wasn't supposed to know that this play existed, but it turned out I was supposed to read it over the summer.

I've read a lot of books that make no sense or left me thinking, WHAT THE FUDGE? or were simply pointless, but this play was just POINTLESS. A Big-Foot-DOES-Exist kind of pointless (because he doesn't exist, if you get what I mean). Yes, the story was
Oct 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, plays
I'm a Pittsburgher, but even if I weren't, I would declare August Wilson a national treasure.

His cycle of plays covers different decades in the African-American experience in Pittsburgh. The Piano Lesson is set in the 1930s, when many blacks knew people who either had been born into slavery or who could remember slave members of the family, and that forms one of the elements in this gripping saga.

At the heart of the play is a richly carved piano that becomes the subject of a family dispute. It
Oct 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
My second August Wilson play/book and I Loved it! To this hometown Pittsburgh girl his plays read just like pure dialogue between people that I may know or have heard. I enjoyed it immensely and have not a negative speck of a word to say against it. I look forward to reading the rest of his play collection and hope to see one live on stage soon.
Connie Kuntz
Oct 10, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Theatre Nerds
Recommended to Connie by: I like the author
This is one of those family dramas that engaged my mind and my spirit from word one. I can't even imagine the bliss I would experience if I actually saw this play staged.

Reading The Piano Lesson was a joyful experience for me because the characters were so immediately engaging. Wilson has a way of introducing his characters that feels (to me) quick and familiar BUT also compelling and mysterious. I found myself leaning into the book to learn more about the characters as the drama unfurled.

I nev
This is a 3.7 starred rating.

I continue my backward trajectory through August Wilson's Century Cycle with The Piano Lesson. If I had to based what I thought this play would be about solely on its title, I probably would have said this would be the most innocuous of his Cycle thus far. I would be wrong; way off the map and with good reason too.

The Piano Lesson takes place in 1936. On its surface, it's about a brother sister conflict. Little brother Boy Willie wants to sell of the family piano so
Jul 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
Truly enjoyable play depicting the great migration from the Deep South to the northern industrial zones, in this case—Pittsburgh. There are meditations on fate, justice and gender hypocrisy. There’s a simmering pain and a ghost who’s as taciturn as the fallen king of Denmark.
Jul 16, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: drama
An old piano is as much a character in this play as any of the characters who speak lines, chase dreams, or resist ghosts in this starkly beautiful drama. Like all but one of the other tens plays in August Wilson’s Century Cycle, The Piano Lesson is set in Pittsburgh. The time is the late 1930s, making it the fourth chronologically in the cycle (fifth in order of composition). I’ve been reading them in chronological order and this one is the most compelling and enjoyable to date (in a stiff comp ...more
Nicholas Armstrong
Jan 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I've said this before with plays and I will say it again: they must be watched. There is a film version of The Piano Lesson with Charles Dutton that is really remarkable. I'm not sure if they still perform this, but it will be the first play I mark down to see if it is.

Speaking of the play (and a lot of this comes off far better in the theatrical version), the characters are amazing. The history of the characters and how it has defined them, their loves and their hates, their flaws and their tal
Jan 10, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: pulitzer-award
I have seen this play performed and it was very powerful. I wanted to read the play and experience it again and found it just as compelling as the performance. The play revolves around a piano owned by a brother and sister that contains carvings depicting their family history. It becomes a point of serious contention as the sister wants to keep it and the brother wants to sell it. The real lesson of the piano is the conflict between preserving the history of an African-American family that all t ...more
Mar 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Have I talked about how natural the dialogue is in these plays? I know Wilson wrote a lot in bars, listening to the talk all around him, but this is a skill far exceeding just the ability to pull from reality. I love how Boy Willie clearly talks first and thinks later, just easily slipping stretches of the truth here and there to always bolster his point. Even for things that don't even matter. We've all known people like that who will just casually drop, "Lymon got tired" or something like that ...more
Roger Lohmann
Feb 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Conflict between a Pittsburgh woman, Bernice, and her brother from Mississippi over ownership of a piano that has been in the family since slave time. By all means, read it, but if you have a chance to see it produced do not miss it! Critics may say Wilson's Fences is better, but I find this one hard to top. Wilson's unique mix of African-American and universal themes is really unmatched. And his "Century Cycle" (completed before his death) in which he has written a play set in each decade in th ...more
Apr 20, 2017 rated it liked it
This is the fourth play in August Wilson's Century Cycle. This play was good. It was set in the 1930s and is about a man name Boy Willie who goes up north to Pittsburgh with his friend Lymon with intentions to sell the family piano in order to buy some land back south. Boy Willie's sister Berniece keeps the piano in her house and does not want to sell it. Tensions rise between the siblings until its dramatic conclusion.

As of this writing, out of the four Wilson plays that I have read I still th
Julia Buckley
Jul 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This was the first play I've read by Wilson, and I was struck by the depth of his characters and the power of his dialogue. His careful attention to the details and nuances of human speech and behavior made the conversations (and the characters) come alive on the page. Occasionally funny, often sad, this drama takes on a seemingly simple conflict that escalates into something much more for the brother and sister on either side of the argument. ...more
Dec 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: plays, american
The central conflict of the play swirls around an old piano, an heirloom instrument with carved figures on the front and sides, and whether it should be sold to buy the land in Mississippi its owners’ forebears once worked as slaves.

The history of the piano is steeped in violence - “thieving and killing, thieving and killing,” - and it is the legacy of all that bloodshed that makes the piano so valuable, either as a treasured keepsake or as an item for sale.
Shawn Deal
Jun 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: classic, plays
One of the greatest modern plays ever written. This is a brilliant piece of work that shows the struggle for African-Americans between their history, resembled in a piano, and the an opportunity for the future for the price of the piano and what that money could do. There is no winning situation with a choice like this. There is always something to be lost.
Aug 28, 2014 rated it really liked it
Wilson’s dialog is superb. The conflict is all too real. The prose is strong, realistic with some poetic smatterings scattered about. Vibrant, with an emotional pull causing the narrative and ensemble to come alive. The building tension creates a suspenseful and plausible ambiance.

The ending adds fuel to the fire, as the climatic finale binds the entire narrative.
Kelly Mogilefsky
Apr 26, 2009 rated it it was amazing
I am reading this again to prepare to teach it over the summer. I always think I've got this play down, but another read brings me a fresh perspective. It is a great character study, depicting with clarity the struggle between past and present, memory and fulfillment of promise. ...more
Jan 05, 2011 rated it liked it
I would have loved to have seen Samuel L. Jackson as "Boy Willie." ...more
Nov 22, 2011 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Bettie, Carey, Wanda, Hayes
From BBC Radio 3:
August Wilson's play about a brother and sister and a piano carved with African faces.
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August Wilson was an American playwright. His literary legacy is the ten play series, The Pittsburgh Cycle, for which he received two Pulitzer Prizes for Drama. Each is set in a different decade, depicting the comic and tragic aspects of the African-American experience in the twentieth century.

Wilson was born Frederick August Kittel, Jr. in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the fourth

Other books in the series

The Century Cycle (10 books)
  • Gem of the Ocean
  • Joe Turner's Come and Gone
  • Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
  • Seven Guitars
  • Fences (The Century Cycle #6)
  • Two Trains Running
  • Jitney
  • King Hedley II
  • Radio Golf

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