FROM THE LIVE STAGE with Patrick-Jude Oteh
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King Hedley II was the son of King Hedley I and Ruby who was a big band singer but who recently moved back to town. Ruby is the girlfriend of Elmore who is a professional hustler and has a habit of coming and going as the spirit moves him. King Hedley II has a friend Mister who has been his friend since childhood. Whenever they are broke or in need of quick cash, they steal. It was as simple as that. Presently they are engaged in selling fridges but the ones that make ice have gone out of stock. Here is how it works – you need a fridge you order for it cash front and the fridge is delivered to your doorstep. No questions are asked about the origin of the fridge. King Hedley II has a wife Tonya who recently got pregnant but had to get a D&C to remove the baby because she was not convinced that King Hedley II can guarantee their new baby a life off the streets.
King Hedley II who was brought up by his Aunty just came back from prison after killing the man who sliced his face in two leaving him with a permanent scar. He is proud of the time he did in prison but now he is back. His Aunty is dead so he moved in with his biological mother. He just wants to live a quiet life, but his mother does not trust him and every so often reminds him that he should quit stealing. But to King Hedley II this is not stealing – it is business and Mister is his business partner. The society might not agree with their kind of business but he has quit living by the rules of society.
Elmore suddenly appears and he has a certain hold on Ruby. His coming back has a reason – he wants to marry Ruby and settle down because in his Sixties, he no longer has the thirst for the road except for one more very important trip that he must make. There is a snag as King Hedley II remembers that the last time Elmore passed by to see his Mother, Elmore sold him a bad wrist watch which though he claimed it will work forever worked for only two days. They had a score to settle. It must also be said that Elmore is a consummate and irredeemable gambler.
Elmore proposes to marry Ruby. All these years, only Elmore and Ruby know that King Hedley I is the real father of King Hedley II but over the years he had been passed off as a relation with a sad history. Enter Stool Pigeon who makes a gift of the sword that hacked King Hedley I to his son but tells him that it is the sword that God is coming to judge with. In the course of the narrative, Elmore is looking for someone to gamble with. No one takes up the bait. He sells a gun to Mister who in turn loans the gun to Ruby. It is a day of judgement and happiness but Elmore in a fit of the unexplained decides against the advice of Ruby to settle all scores that night. Ruby leaves them.
Elmore proceeds to tell King Hedley II who his real father was. King decides that the only way to settle the score is for them to gamble. But if Elmore wins he knows it is with a dice that has been tailored to win. King tells Elmore that he is in a battle with death so he had better not win. They proceed and King wins squarely until Elmore decides to use the tailored dice. King finds out and in a fit of rage lifts the sword to strike Elmore but he digs the sword into the ground. Elmore also had a gun and he in a fit of rage brings it out and fires into the ground! Ruby who was still holding Mister’s gun heard the shot from inside the house and all her thoughts was that her son had killed Elmore on a day that was supposed to be her happiest. Coincidentally, King had started walking towards the house and as soon as Ruby sees him she fires and kills him instantly only to see Elmore standing behind the now dead King Hedley II.
This story of King Hedley II is the 9th in the Pittsburgh cycle of playwright and poet, August Wilson. Written in 1995 telling the story of the decade 1985 – 1995, it is a complex story but one crafted with the richness that only he could muster and master. Kind Hedley II is a masterpiece by all standards and all the kinds of emotions that are rife with humans are in the play in abundance.