Jitney is set in 1977, which makes it the '70s entry in Wilson's projected ten-decades-in-ten-plays look at 20th-century African-Americans. (Only two more, the '90s and the current decade, remain to be written.) As the couple of weeks that the drama covers pass by, the doings bring to mind predecessors as disparate as The Iceman Cometh and Taxi. Not to mention the often hilarious, often criticized (and misunderstood) Amos 'n Andy, in which Andy, if you'll remember, drove a cab. The milieu of the two dispatch offices is similar. Nothing wrong with the referencing, aside from an initial air of familiarity and perhaps the pat resolution of some of the conflicts: Youngblood and wife patch up their very complex, very real misunderstanding more handily than seems likely.
Indeed, watering hole-type plays such as Jitney ask to be judged for their vitality, and this one is as invigorated and invigorating as a WWF wrestling match. A couple of the men baiting each other over incidents like borrowed money could be defined as "gossipy", "drunk", or "foolish"--but when they express themselves, they're identifiably bamboozled and funny. Possibly the most magnetic of the local-color clique is numbers runner Shealy, who gets to tell a hilarious shaggy-dog story about why he can't land himself the right woman. But everyone of the car jocks gets yuks. One of them, exiting to pick up a caller, cracks, "You know she done joined the Jehovah Witness--when I come back, I'll be able to tell you anything you want to know about the Bible."
Incidentally, Jitney is just now reaching New York after a number of productions elsewhere. It's the extended version of Wilson's first play, a 1979 one-act of the same title. While the piece is typical of Wilson's treatises on how dignity among African-Americans is stalked against daunting odds, it's leaner than most of the playwright's subsequent works. Shealy's first-act speech, for instance, isn't followed by others; in another Wilson opus, his volubility would have been contagious. That is to say, though Wilson's works often feel as if necessary editing has been postponed or neglected, Jitney doesn't.