Long Wharf Theatre, New Haven
August Wilson’s ten-cycle plays, offering a rich vision of the African-American experience in the 20th century, have become a national treasure. And none more so than one of that cycle--his Pulitzer-Prize-winning “Fences”!
“Fences,” which covers African-American life in the 1950’s, takes place, like most of his cycle plays, in the Hill district of Pittsburgh. Focusing on the life of Troy Maxson, formerly a gifted baseball player (who missed his chance to make the major leagues) and now a garbageman, Wilson delves, deeply, thoroughly, into the man’s attitudes and feelings. Despite Wilson’s careful characterization which takes considerable time, the pace never falters. It is the passion, the deep display of emotion from Troy and those surrounding him, which keeps the drama at an intense level.
And now, it is a blessing to us all that Long Wharf has revised the play, under the unerring direction of Phylicia Rashad. Esau Pritchett puts his heart, soul, and performance skills into the key role. And if he does not quite top earlier interpretations of the role, so be it. He is supported by a fine cast which never falters.
What is this particular drama about? Troy’s son Cory has a chance at a college football scholarship if he can give high school football the proper effort and time. But Troy, envious of his son’s opportunities (in contrast to his own experience), thwarts his chances. Cory must work at a job, pull his weight in the family. Never mind the football nonsense.
The passions, the dreams, the frustrations, are all there in the playwright’s skillfully-woven tale. On display are Troy’s difficult relations with his wife Rose (movingly played by Portia), his bonding with a fellow worker (the estimable Phil McGlaston), and his love of his child-like uncle (played memorably by G. Alverez Reid). As excellent comic relief, Lyons (his son by a former marriage) appears on the scene, and Jared McNeill brings the character to life.
It is, in all, a fine cast, tackling a landmark play. This “Fences” is not to be missed.
-- Irene Backalenick
Dec. 14, 2013