Backstage Pass with Lia Chang

Brandon J. Dirden makes directorial debut with August Wilson’s Seven Guitars at Two River Theater, September 12 – October 4

Brandon J. Dirden will direct his wife Crystal Dickinson in his directorial debut of August Wilson's Seven Guitars at Two River Theater. Photo by Lia Chang

Brandon J. Dirden will direct his wife Crystal Dickinson in his directorial debut of August Wilson’s Seven Guitars at Two River Theater. Photo by Lia Chang

Two River Theater, under the leadership of Artistic Director John Dias and Managing Director Michael Hurst, is presenting August Wilson’s Seven Guitars, directed by Brandon J. Dirden, an award-winning actor who is making his directorial debut with this production. Seven Guitars is the third play in Wilson’s American Century Cycle produced by Two River, following the theater’s acclaimed mountings of Jitney and Two Trains Running. Performances will begin in Two River’s Rechnitz Theater, 21 Bridge Avenue, on Saturday, September 12 and continue through Sunday, October 4. The opening night performance is Friday, September 18 at 8pm. Tickets are available from 732.345.1400 or The lead production sponsor is Springpoint Senior Living Foundation at The Atrium at Navesink Harbor.

Among his many credits as an actor in the plays of August Wilson, Brandon J. Dirden made his professional debut in a 1990 production of Joe Turner’s Come and Gone at the Alley Theatre and was honored with an Obie Award for his performance in The Piano Lesson at Signature Theatre in 2012. He made his Two River Theater debut in Wilson’s Jitney. He has also appeared at Two River in the world premiere of Ruben Santiago-Hudson’s Your Blues Ain’t Sweet Like Mine and in Topdog/Underdog, in which he starred opposite his brother Jason Dirden under the direction of the play’s author, Suzan-Lori Parks. On Broadway, his credits include Clybourne Park (in which he appeared with his wife, Crystal Dickinson) and, most recently, All the Way, in which he starred as Martin Luther King Jr. opposite Bryan Cranston’s Lyndon Johnson. On television, he can be seen as Agent Aderholt in the FX series The Americans.

Kevin Mambo. Photo by Lia Chang

Kevin Mambo. Photo by Lia Chang

Seven Guitars is the 1940s play in Wilson’s 10-play cycle exploring the African-American experience in each decade of the 20th century. Set in Pittsburgh’s Hill District in 1948, it tells the story of Floyd “Schoolboy” Barton, played at Two River by Kevin Mambo (Fela!), a blues guitarist who sits on the edge of stardom. The production will feature original music by acclaimed jazz musician Jason Moran.

Featured in the cast are Brittany Bellizeare (Ruby), Brian D. Coats (Hedley), Crystal Dickinson (Louise), Jason Dirden (Canewell), Charlie Hudson III (Red Carter), and Christina Acosta Robinson (Vera).

two river, seven guitarsThe creative team for Seven Guitars includes scenic designer Michael Carnahan, costume designer Karen Perry, lighting designer Driscoll Otto, and sound designer David Margolin Lawson. The fight direction is by Unkle Dave’s Fight-House, the casting is by Heidi Griffiths and Kate Murray, and the production stage manager is Laura Wilson.

“One of the things we are proudest of here at Two River is our track record for giving actors new challenges that stretch them as artists,” says Artistic Director John Dias. “Some years ago, Brandon mentioned to me that he wanted to direct, and I have been searching for the right project for him ever since.  We found it in August Wilson’s beautiful and wrenching Seven Guitars.”

Ticket Information
Ticket prices range from $37 to $65, with discounts available for groups, seniors, and U.S. military personnel, their families, and veterans. A limited number of $20 tickets are available for every performance; $20 tickets may be partial view. Tickets for patrons under 30 are $20 and include the best available seats at every performance. Tickets are available from or 732.345.1400.

Inside Two River
Inside Two River is a series of events specially curated for each Two River Theater production. For more information or to reserve seats, patrons should visit or call 732.345.1400.

August Wilson 101 with Artistic Director John Dias: Tuesday, September 8 at 7:30pm in the Victoria J. Mastrobuono Library
August Wilson has been called “America’s Shakespeare.” His work, and especially his seminal American Century Cycle—10 plays set in each decade of the 20th century—are classics of American theater. In this lecture and Q&A, Artistic Director John Dias will provide background into Wilson’s life and the elements that shaped his work, and explore the richness of the plays themselves.

Book Club: The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem, Sunday, September 20 at 5:30pm in the Victoria Mastrobuono Library (following the 3pm performance) 
Literary Manager Anika Chapin will lead a discussion of The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem.  Dylan and Mingus—one white, one black—are best friends growing up on a rough street in Brooklyn in the 1970s through the 1990s. Surrounded by the characters of their community and bonded by their love for music and comic books, the boys’ friendship is tested as the paths of their lives begin to diverge. In conjunction with Seven Guitars, Two River’s Book Club (free and open to the public) will discuss the good and bad sides of growing up in a tight-knit community, the power of musical stardom, and the dark side of a dream.

Audience Extras
Before Play and Lobby Display
Audiences will learn about August Wilson in Two River’s Before Play lecture series, which takes place 45 minutes prior to every performance, and Lobby Display.

Post-Play Conversations
Discussions with the cast and a member of Two River’s Artistic staff will take place on Wednesday, September 23 at 7 pm; Sunday, September 27 at 3pm; and Wednesday, September 30 at 1pm.

Working with Google, Two River has created and launched a virtual tour of its facility, which lives on Google Maps and This virtual tour provides an additional level of support and benefit for patrons who use wheelchairs or require other assistance by allowing them to virtually come through the theater’s front doors and view the space in detail in advance of their visit.

An audio-described performance is scheduled for Wednesday, September 30 at 1pm, and an open-captioned performance is scheduled for Saturday, October 3 at 3pm. Tickets are available at a discounted rate of $25 for patrons using these services. To reserve wheelchair-accessible seating or tickets to a performance listed above, patrons should call 732.345.1400 or e-mail

Saturday, September 12 at 8pm
Sunday, September 13 at 3pm
Wednesday, September 16 at 1 pm and 7pm
Thursday, September 17 at 8pm
Friday, September 18 at 8pm (Opening Night)
Saturday, September 19 at 3pm and 8pm
Sunday, September 20 at 3pm
Wednesday, September 23 at 1pm and 7pm
Thursday, September 24 at 10 am (student matinee) and 8pm
Friday, September 25 at 8pm
Saturday, September 26 at 3pm and 8pm
Sunday, September 27 at 3pm
Wednesday, September 30 at 1pm and 7pm
Thursday, October 1 at 10 am (student matinee) and 8pm
Friday, October 2 at 8pm
Saturday, October 3 at 3pm and 8pm
Sunday, October 4 at 3pm

The lead production sponsor for Seven Guitars is Springpoint Senior Living Foundation at The Atrium at Navesink Harbor. Inside Two River is sponsored by The William T. Morris Foundation. The Before Play series is sponsored by Zager Fuchs, PC.

Two River Theater is supported in part by funds from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, a Partner Agency of the National Endowment for the Arts, the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation, Monmouth University, The Shubert Foundation, The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Meridian Health/Riverview Medical Center, The Stone Foundation of New Jersey, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Investors Bank, The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey, Springpoint Senior Living Foundation at the Atrium at Navesink Harbor, Bank of America Charitable Foundation, Wells Fargo, William T. Morris Foundation, US Trust, Brookdale Community College, and many other generous foundations, corporations and individuals.

Two River Theater, under the leadership of Artistic Director John Dias and Managing Director Michael Hurst, creates great American theater performed by award-winning artists. We produce American and world masterpieces, and new plays and musicals. Two River Theater offers new-play commissions and artistic development activities that support the most adventurous artists in the American theater; invites its audience to be part of the creative process through readings and open rehearsals; and cultivates students and young people to participate in innovative arts-education programs and become a new generation of theatergoers. Founded in 1994 by Joan and Dr. Robert M. Rechnitz, Two River Theater is easily accessible by car, train, or bus, with great restaurants and shopping within walking distance of the theater. For more information, visit or call 732.345.1400.  

Lia Chang

Lia Chang

Lia Chang is an award-winning filmmaker, a Best Actress nominee, a photographer, and an award-winning multi-platform journalist. Lia has appeared in the films Wolf, New Jack City, A Kiss Before Dying, King of New York, Big Trouble in Little China, The Last Dragon, Taxman and Hide and Seek. She is profiled in Blog, Jade Magazine and

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