Photos by Tim Fuller
The play “Fences” was written by American playwright August Wilson (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”), who was a genius at bringing African-American characters and unique themes to the stage.Set in the 1950s, “Fences” explores the life of a 50-something Troy Maxson (David Alan Anderson), a trash man who had spent time in prison years ago, was talented at baseball but didn’t get to play professionally, and now lives in a very modest home and struggles to provide for his family. Troy’s friend, Bono (played by Marcus Naylor) is as a nearly life-long friend, co-worker and ultimately, a sounding board about what is transpiring in Troy’s life as they carry on their post-workday conversations throughout “Fences.”
The set does not change throughout the play that is chocked full of colorful characters, challenging themes and a different look at the 1950s through the lens of a man who has never lived up to his potential. The set itself is the front yard and porch of the Maxson home and is creative and thoughtful in the way that it is able to showcase the era, the neighborhood and the characters.
Troy’s youngest son, Cory (Edgar Sanchez) holds solid promise as a football player and has been recruited by a college. Cory’s father dissuades him from playing football and in fact orders him to take back a job Cory just quit at a local store. Troy tells Cory that it’s always about the white man and does nothing to encourage his son who has an obvious passion and talent for the sport.
Troy’s wife, Rose (Kim Staunton) is a devoted housewife, spending the last 18 years cooking, cleaning, tending to the house, loving Troy and raising his two sons, Cory and Lyons (James T. Alfred). Lyons is in his mid 30s and is a musician who lives slightly above his means and comes around to borrow money from his “pops” on payday. Alfred, as Lyons sweeps in and owns the stage. With his swagger and energy, he brings a breath of fresh air and timing perfection to all his scenes, and with it, a glimpse of life just beyond the daily grind of the Maxson neighborhood.
Rose and Troy have not had children of their own, but that window of opportunity has passed. Even so, Rose remains as a beacon of light and stability in the Maxson home. She does her best to keep the peace and remain supportive of Cory’s dream to play football, Lyons ongoing pursuit of a musical career and Troy’s daily routine. She also seems to always want what is fair for Troy’s brother.
Troy’s brother, Gabriel (Terry Bellamy) was terribly injured in WWII. Troy has been placed in charge of Gabriel’s care, although it is revealed that Troy has been using Gabriel’s money that the disabled man has received as part of those war injuries. In his own world, Gabriel helps St. Peter open the gates to heaven and sounds his trumpet to welcome people. Gabriel also works on earth to keep away the “hounds of hell” on earth. Those hounds of hell are coming for Troy and Troy knows it.
The second act of “Fences” shows a renewed effort to build a fence around the outside of the Maxson home, but is Troy building the fence to keep something in, or keep something out? The correct answer is both. A bombshell is unleashed in the second act and Rose is brought to her knees. That scene provides some of the most poignant, painful and character-revealing moments for Rose and gives the audience more insight as to what has been going on with this couple in the past 18 years.
How much more bad news could someone bear? The phone rings and Rose answers. She is visibly shaken and returns to the front porch to reveal that there has been a death and then somewhat reluctantly announces that there will be newborn coming to live with the family. Rose quietly and respectfully agrees to raise the daughter as the one she never had with Troy and also announces she is no longer Troy’s woman, although the two remain in the home together.
In the final act, seven or eight years have passed and Troy and Alberta’s little girl, Raynell (Simeeyah Grace Baker) is happy, healthy and embracing life, even as she displays a bit of Troy’s defiance. Baker, as Raynell, has limited stage time but literally steals the show with her wide-eyed innocence and a duet that she performs with her older half-brother, Cory. Troy has now passed on, it is the day of his funeral and Cory will not be attending, although he stopped by the family home. Through some prodding by Rose and a natural and loving connection with Raynell, Cory agrees to attend the funeral. It seems that the fence could not keep out the grim reaper, but it ultimately did keep the blended family together.
“Fences” premiered on Broadway in 1987 and won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the 1987 Tony Award for Best Play. The Broadway revival in 2010 starred Denzel Washington as Troy Maxson and Viola Davis as Rose. The revival was nominated for 10 Tony Awards, taking home three trophies:Best Revival of a Play, Best Actor in a Play for Denzel Washington and Best Actress in a Play for Viola Davis. “Fences” is touching, hard to watch at some points and gripping, throughout. Each performance is tinged with passion and each actor gets a chance to shine.
Arizona Theatre Company’s “Fences” is a performance not to be missed and is one of the best plays performed in the last few years! It is superbly acted and includes fantastically colorful characters and although the time frame is nearly 70 years ago, its themes ring true in today’s world.“Fences” plays at Phoenix at Herberger Theater Center through February 28. For tickets, visit www.arizonatheatre.org or call (602) 256-6995.