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Sunday, 02 May 2010 13:17

Broadway Review: FENCES

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Viola Davis and Denzel Washington in Fences
Viola Davis and Denzel Washington in August Wilson's Fences
Photo: Joan Marcus

The revival of August Wilson's Fences starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis is an emotionally riveting production. Fences is the sixth of Wilson's ten-play Century Cycle chronicling the Black experience in Pittsburgh's Hill District during the 20th century. Washington plays Troy Maxson, married for 18 years to Rose (Davis). He has two boys; Lyons (Russell Hornsby), the product of a previous marriage who is grown and living on his own as a musician. The other, Cory (Chris Chalk) by his current wife is still in high-school and looks to have a promising future as a college football player. He has been offered a college football scholarship which Troy quickly puts the kibosh on.

Fences and the character of Troy represent an amalgam of people and events in Wilson's life. His father, a white man walked out on his mother and six children only to show up occasionally and usually drunk. Troy represents the multiple surrogate fathers that Wilson had back when he was just Frederick "Freddie" August Kittel. (Wilson was his mother's maiden name.) One of the surrogates was the neighbor across the street, a former prize-fighter turned garbage man. Another, his step-father, a former college football player who had hoped to win a football scholarship to go to medical school. After no college would give a scholarship to a black man, he robbed a store and wound up in jail after killing a man during the attempted robbery.

The play is rife with metaphors. The metaphors start with the title, Fences. Fences refers to the fence that Troy spends the better part of the play building. It is this same metaphorical fence that has held him back his whole life. It is the fence he aimed for as a player in the Negro Leagues only to find himself too old to play after the integration of baseball. This fence also keeps death at bay as he faces down the imagined sickle bearing grim reaper that has trolled after him his whole life. The other metaphor is baseball. As Troy's son Cory challenges him he refers to each infraction as a strike and he cautions him "Don’t you strike out!"

Chris Chalk and Denzel Washington in Fences
Chris Chalk (l) and Denzel Washington in Fences
Photo: Joan Marcus

Denzel Washington has a firm grasp on the role of Troy. He plays him with a brashness and conviction that allow you to experience the disappointment he has felt as a black man just getting by. His Troy is proud and cock-sure. Viola Davis gives the performance of the season as Rose. Her Rose is charming and you see the woman Troy fell in love with. Your heart aches for Rose as you watch Davis inhabit this woman who goes from smiling and adoring wife, to the dejected woman Troy cheats on, to the strong, confident woman who ultimately raises Troy's third child, a product of his dalliance with the other woman. Washington and Davis give magnificent, Tony-worthy performances.

Fences is beautifully directed by Kenny Leon. He has helped this cast find the deep rich emotional truth to Wilson's characters. Leon is no stranger to August Wilson's work having directed Gem of the Ocean and Radio Golf on Broadway as well as the Century Cycle while artistic director at the Kennedy Center.

If you have not yet become a life-long fan of August Wilson I implore you to see Fences. You will become one.

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View full production credits at the Internet Broadway Database.

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Last modified on Saturday, 15 May 2010 14:27