Denzel Washington to follow in Israel Hicks' historic Denver footsteps

From left: August Wilson, Israel Hicks and Denzel Washington. From left: August Wilson, Israel Hicks and Denzel Washington.

Denzel Washington intends to  direct all 10 of August Wilson’s plays for HBO, the two-time Oscar-winning actor revealed Thursday during an informal Q&A at the University of Southern California.

If it happens, Washington would be endeavoring to do on film what Israel Hicks did first on stage. Hicks made history with the DCPA Theatre Company in 2009, when he became the first director anywhere to helm August Wilson’s entire 10-play, 10-decade exploration of the black experience in America for the same theater company. “It has to rank up with the greatest achievements in the history of the American theater,” actor Harvy Blanks said at the time.

READ JOHN MOORE’S TRIBUTE TO ISRAEL HICKS

Washington, who won a Tony Award for his live theatrical performance in the 2010 Broadway revival of Wilson’s Fences, says he had made the arrangements with the Pulitzer-winning playwright’s estate to pursue the project for HBO. The cable network has not independently confirmed the news.

“I’m directing, producing — and acting in one (Fences) — and I’m executive producing the other nine,” he told interviewer Todd Boyd during the “An Evening With Denzel Washington” event. “I’m really excited about that — that the estate would put that in my hands and trust me. That’s good enough for me. It doesn’t get any better than that.”

READ JOHN MOORE’S TRIBUTE TO AUGUST WILSON

Washington also said Viola Davis — his costar in Fences — will act alongside him in the HBO version. Davis, currently the star of TV’s How to Get Away With Murder, also won a Tony for her performance in the Broadway revival of Fences, set in the Hill District circa 1957 and a Pulitzer Prize winner for the late playwright.

The DCPA Theatre Company's 1990 production of 'Fences,' directed by Israel Hicks. And who was Israel Hicks?

“I learned the joy of living from him,” said Kim Staunton, the longtime Denver Center actor who appeared in many of Hicks’ DCPA productions. “Part of me died with him.”

The Wilson cycle in Denver was initiated in 1990 by then-Artistic Director Donovan Marley and completed in 2009 under his successor, Kent Thompson.

“It’s a huge deal because any commitment over that period of time is extremely rare in the American theater today,” Thompson said.

(Photo: From the DCPA Theatre Company’s 1990 production of ‘Fences,’ directed by Israel Hicks.)

Wilson’s 10 plays, colloquially known as the August Wilson Century Cycle, explored the effects of slavery and Civil War on the culture in the 1900s. When Wilson died in 2005, Shadow Theatre Company founder Jeffrey Nickelson said the American theater had lost one of its giants, “but the black American theater has lost its Shakespeare.” 

“It is the history of a culture,” Hicks said of the Wilson Cycle in his final Denver Post interview. He died in 2010 at age 66.

“Every Wilson play asks big questions like, ‘Will we get bogged down by the history, or do we move forward?’ ” said Hicks, who grew up in New York in the turbulent ’60s asking big questions of his own, like, “Where do we come from?” “Who am I?” and “Where is my history?”  “And I think out of that, August gave birth to some answers – decade by decade,” he said.

​According to Playbill.com, a film version of Fences was discussed as early as 1990, but Wilson “was famously adamant that the project could go forward only if it had a black director, as the original 1987 Broadway production had had in Lloyd Richards.”

To watch the video of Denzel Washington’s announcement, click here.

Wire services contributed to this report.

Selected previous August Wilson coverage by John Moore:

Wilson’s entire cycle in words and photos, as performed in Denver
Wilson’s cycle a search for history, family
Hicks to complete landmark theatre milestone in Denver
Harvy Blanks on Wilson: ‘An August lesson in being American’

The 10 Most Important American Plays: Fences makes the list

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