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a Drama
by August Wilson

COMPANY : Independent Artists’ Playhouse [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Brady Street Theater [WEBSITE]
ID# 5178

SHOWING : November 09, 2017 - November 13, 2017



"Fences" is a 1985 play by American playwright August Wilson. Set in the 1950s, it is the sixth in Wilson’s ten-part "Pittsburgh Cycle". Like all of the "Pittsburgh" plays, "Fences" explores the evolving African-American experience and examines race relations, among other themes.

Director Kevin Harry
Lyons Maxson Jared Brodie
Jim Bono Darrell D Grant
Troy Maxson Marcus Hopkins-Turner
Rose Maxson Britny Horton
Cory Maxson Jael Pettigrew
Raynell Maxson Leiloni Arrie Pharms
Gabriel Maxson Charlie T. Thomas
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by playgoer
Sunday, November 12, 2017
Troy Maxson is one hard-nosed S.O.B. After leaving his cotton-picking family at 14, he was a tomcat with the women and a petty thief in his youth, then spent 15 years in prison for murder during a botched hold-up. He played baseball in the Negro leagues; fathered a couple of sons, before and after his stint in prison; then married, settled down, and now works as what is today called a sanitation engineer. The first act shows him attempting to get his union to allow blacks to be drivers, not just manual laborers. This is not a plot-driven play, though, and we don’t see how he has become a driver, despite his lack of reading skills and a driver’s license.

What the play focuses on is his family relations. He has a loving relationship with his wife, although his catting-around days may not be fully behind him, but his relations with the males in his family are far less loving. His brother Gabriel was brain damaged in World War II, and Troy’s arms-length caring for him tends to be more self-serving than careful. He has no truck with his sons’ ambitions. Older son Lyons dreams of making a living as a musician, but Troy sees him as nothing but a payday mooch, even when Lyons attempts to repay a loan, and ignores Lyons’ requests for his father to come hear him play at a respected nightclub. Younger son Cory, still in high school, wants to play football, for which he has been offered a college scholarship, but Troy insists he quit the team and get a job, then throws him out altogether. Troy is not anyone’s ideal of a father; he’s not much of a husband either, taking years to make any progress on building the fence his wife wants to surround their property.

The action plays out over several years, with the first act occurring during the 16th year of his marriage to Rose. The second act starts a few years later, and carries us through several more years, with a six-year gap before the final scene. As a play, it’s on the long side. Subtle age make-up (mostly graying of hair) helps establish the timeline, although one orange dress worn by Rose in both the first act and the second act tends to counteract the timeline.

The set of the Independent Artists’ Playhouse production is simple, but functional. Center stage is taken up by the porch of a modest house, a couple of chairs on the porch itself and a couple more on the ground in front of it. Sawhorses and pieces of wood for the fence are stage right; a clothesline is stage left. The lighting scheme clearly illuminates the area in front of the porch and the center of the porch itself. The sides of the porch, though, including the doorway, are in shadow. Steps backstage from the porch down to the stage floor are directly behind the door, although they would better have been placed to descend behind the façade. The floorboards on the porch are just loose enough to suggest age, and the post by the stairs is a bit rickety too. This is a house that has been cared for, but on which no money has been lavished.

Director Kevin Harry has done a wonderful job of shaping the play to bring out the story, and also a wonderful job of blocking the action to seem natural, yet to allow the audience to see reactions flickering on the faces of everyone onstage. And the performances verge on the phenomenal. Leiloni Arrie Pharms is a self-assured, well-spoken child in the final scene. Charlie T. Thomas pulls at the heartstrings with his sensitive portrayal of child-like Gabriel. Darrell Grant grounds the action as Troy’s pal Jim Bono, and Jared Brodie adds a street-smooth vibe as older son Lyons.

The central relationships in the play are of Troy with his wife Rose and his younger son, Cory. Marcus Hopkins-Turner brings a scorching intensity to Troy, raging and battling against all obstacles he encounters, including death. Britny Horton is a marvel as Rose, her incandescent smile in the first act slowly disappearing as life wears down on her, her reactions to what is happening onstage often as eloquent as her words. Jael Pettigrew does the most profoundly satisfying job of aging in the show, being totally believable both as a petulant, defiant teen in the early sections and as a disciplined six-year Marines veteran in the final scene. It’s his journey that is the most moving.

"Fences" showcases the supreme talents of August Wilson as a writer, of Kevin Harry as a director, and of the entire cast as actors. The Independent Artists’ Playhouse production clearly shows us the emotional fences Troy Maxson has thrown up as a defense against what he perceives as external threats, but that wall him off from the love his family offers that could be his inside a simple, picket-fenced cottage. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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