On the night of the New York City premiere of Fences, starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, Constanza Romero Wilson beamed from ear to ear. The wife of late Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright August Wilson felt immense pride at the immortalization of Wilson’s work on film.
“His legacy is alive and well here on the big screen,” she said from the red carpet December 19. “I also hope that people will walk out of the movie saying, ‘I never heard that kind of poetry, that kind of musicality, the rhythm of that language,’ and say, ‘Wow. Movies can be made out of plays.’”
As for this reimagining of the 2010 Broadway revival starring Tony winners Washington and Davis, Wilson believes her husband would love this version, which feels intimate in the way a play does. “One of the reasons why it starts in the dark, and we hear two men talking in the back of the truck, is so that you will lean in and say, ‘Oh, it’s about language,’” she said. “And we have to listen. There are so many movies being made with a gesture of face or whatever they’re telling the story [with], but it’s not as rich as this work is. I’m hoping that it does break a little bit of a certain new ground of telling a story that has a lot of words…a lot of poetry.”
It helps that those words are said by a cast of “Wilsonian Warriors,” as she calls them. All but two members from the Broadway production returned for the making of the film. “They brought their A-game to the play, so it’s already part of the fabric of their heart. It’s in their blood already,” she said. “That’s why this ensemble is so strong.”
Wilson isn’t just an emblematic presence when it comes to her husband’s art, she’s a working one. “Tomorrow I’ll be in the Jitney rehearsal room, and I’m going to see a run-through,” she said. “I am there as the eye of the playwright. I spent a lot of time with August sitting in the back of the theatres, and he would press my hand really hard whenever somebody didn’t say a line right. It was like, ‘Ouch!’ So at this point, I know when he’d be happy or when he’d be upset.”
Jitney makes its Broadway debut beginning December 28 at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre.