Theater Review - Fences (CT)

I do not know why the theater was only half full on December 10 when we attended a performance of” Fences” at Long Wharf.  It is a marvelous work by August Wilson, directed by Phylicia Rashad and should be experienced. I have seen the play in many incarnations, but it so rich in language, character and plot, each time I discover new wonderful things about it. IT PLAYS ONLY THROUGH DECEMBER 22, GIVE YOURSELF A GIFT AND SEE IT!

(I was there when “Fences” premiered April 30, 1985 at the Yale Rep. I was there when it went to Broadway on March 26, 1987. There it set a record for a nonmusical Broadway production.)

Everything takes place in the impoverished Hill District of Pittsburgh. It is 1957. On a rustic set, a small neat red brick house with green trim and a front porch, designed by John Iacovelli and lit in a warm brown hue by Xavier Pierce, we are introduced to Troy Maxson, his loyal wife of 18 years, Rose, his best friend, Jim Bono, whom he met while they were in jail, his grown son from a previous marriage, Lyon, his son with Rose, Cory, his brother, Gabriel, who was brain-injured in World War II, and finally, a little girl, Raynell, depicted by precious Taylor Dior.

What the playwright does with these characters, whom he loves, is present them as very real, very good people with stunning everyday problems that they are forced to solve. And for the most part, the fine cast, costumed by Esosa, lives up to those expectations. Played with power by Esau Pritchett, a tall man with a strong voice, Troy, a former baseball player, is a proud husband and father, who works for a local garbage company. When the play opens, he has courageously petitioned the company to leave being a hauler and become a driver, a job uniformly given to whites. His friend, Bono, the sincere Phil McGlaston, is amazed and impressed that he could do this. Troy subsequently gets the job, but it leads to serious problems. 

Troy has promised Rose, who has restored his life, that he will build a fence for her around their property and expects his teenage son, Cory, young Chris Myers, to help him on Saturdays. He can’t abide Cory’s interest in the football team and won’t talk to the college recruiters who are coming to talk to him.  Rose, portrayed beautifully here by an actress with one name, Portia, and Cory are both upset with him, but he will not budge. (I well remember Portia from her bravura performance as Mama Nadi in Ruined.)  To add to Troy’s anxieties are the payments he has to make to the white police who constantly arrest his brother, Gabriel, a convincing G. Alvarez Reid.  Although cautioned by Bono, Troy spends less and less time at home and finally admits to Rose, in a terrible moment, that he has gotten another woman pregnant.  This destroys the marriage, but Rose heroically raises the baby when its mother dies in childbirth. 

“Fences” is a metaphor for the walls we build around us and the consequences we endure for our actions.  Through December 22 at Long Wharf Main Stage.

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