On a realistically rendered set by Santo Loquasto, which includes the run down two story home, porch, and backyard of the Maxson family, where a beautiful old Maple tree has stood for many years with a makeshift baseball made out of old rags hanging from one of its limbs, looming ominously and where the very symbolic fence stands unfinished, playwright August Wilson, who won the Pulitzer for “Fences” back in the eighties tells this riveting tale of a father who wants the best for his family but is angry, embittered and jealous. A man who has many deep-rooted, unresolved issues.
This is Pittsburgh 1957 and very difficult for black people to be accepted. Hard for them to find jobs. To get promotions. Hard for trash collector Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington) who excelled at baseball to find a team to play on. Hard to deal with his checkered past. To accept change. Hard to accept the fact that he used his brother’s disability checks to pay for the house he rules. Hard on his brother Gabriel (Mykelti Williamson) a WWII veteran to not believe he is the Angel Gabriel. Hard to connect with his older son Lyons (Russell Hornsby) from a previous marriage who comes around only when he needs money (although he has some pretty snazzy shoes on), hard on his caring wife Rose (Viola Davis) who loves her husband despite his faults, and hardest on their young son Cory (Chris Chalk) who has the opportunity to play football but a father who insists on his doing his chores, holding down a job and finishing the fence first.
August Wilson has the immense talent to make all this interesting without getting too melodramatic about all that happens to this family which includes an extra marital affair that results in Troy fathering a baby girl (Raynell – a very endearing SaCha Stewart-Coleman) and her mama’s death. A not so understanding but compassionate Rose takes the baby in but not before she blasts her husband for his misdeeds which had the audience fully in her favor and applauding her actions. Mr. Wilson knows these people inside out and is able to convey their innermost fears, thoughts and desires beautifully.
The acting is superb with Denzel Washington coming to grips with an unsavory character and making us feel for him. Viola Davis shows an inner strength in having to deal with everything in a resolute manner. Her performance is breathtaking. Stephen McKinley Henderson as Troy’s best friend Jim Bono brings some humor to the very dramatic proceedings.
Kenny Leon as director does not get in the way of the story or the characters, and that is the best compliment. He leads and coaxes believable performances from all. And the incidental jazz music by Branford Marsalis between scenes is quite evocative.
“Fences” is an enthralling night at the theatre that reminds us all of the challenges that black people have had to face, have met and have overcome.
www.FencesOnBroadway.com Limited 13 week engagement at the Cort Theatre. Photo: Joan Marcus