If King Hedley II, now on Broadway, is any evidence, the 1980s were not August Wilson’s favorite years. Since the Broadway debut of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom in 1984, Wilson has been steadily composing a cycle of plays that examine African-American life in Pittsburgh, one decade at a time; Hedley is his 80s play, and, notably, a new note of despair has crept in. The characters are more down and out; their dreams are more desperate. Their neighborhood has declined from a lower-middle class ...

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