DEATH AIN’T NOTHING BUT A FASTBALL ON THE OUTSIDE CORNER: Review of August Wilson’s “Fences”

By Theresa Allen, guest blogger

The warm golden glow of a summer’s evening juxtaposed against the dark shadows of a dilapidated brick city home provides a luminous backdrop to the riveting and heartbreaking performance of August Wilson’s Fences at the Lone Tree Arts Center. There is still time to pick up tickets to see this extraordinary performance before the play closes on Saturday, April 21st.

Fences opens with Troy Maxson, a garbage man, holding court in his backyard with his captive audience, his wife Rose and best friend Bono. In the opening scene, Troy is a mesmerizing storyteller who humorously recounts a fantastical tale, in the African-American oral tradition, of how he wrestled and escaped from death. This allegorical telling is the thread that holds all the complicated aspects of Troy’s personality together in a deeply disappointing world.

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Esau Pritchett as Troy Maxson. Photo by Danny Lam.

The part of Troy is portrayed by Esau Pritchett, who brings to life a good, but deeply flawed man whose personal frustrations have resulted in building walls between himself and those who love him. Pritchett’s strong voice, charismatic nature, and powerful stage presence provides the audience the sense that they are watching the tragic fall of a working class hero.

In his youth, Troy has the opportunity to play for the Negro Baseball League, at a time before the racial barriers were broken by Jackie Robinson. However, he is involved in a robbery that results in the loss of his baseball future, and he ends up with penitentiary time. He is not home to raise his oldest son, Lyons, played by Bradford Barnes. In his limited understanding of the world, Troy cannot comprehend Lyons’ calling to become a jazz musician and is annoyed by his inability to provide for his wife and his weekly requests for money.

Troy’s second son, Cory, played by Jay Reeves, is a young man with the opportunity to receive an athletic scholarship. Reeves gives a outstanding performance as a young man full of hope and optimism that is dashed when his father will not sign the papers allowing him to play college football. Troy projects his own failure in athletics on to Cory. This is Troy’s way of protecting Cory from the harshness of the world. However, it’s Troy’s sense of duty towards his family coupled with his own inability to be a perfect father and husband that is the tension that holds this play together.

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Esau Pritchett and Julanne Chidi Hill. Photo by Danny Lam.

Without giving away the plot, the pivotal crisis that occurs between Troy and Rose illuminates the complexity of their 18-year marriage. Rose, who in Act I seems marginalized in the lives of Troy, Lyons and Cory steps into the spotlight as a strong and resilient character in her own right in Act II. Julanne Chidi Hill, the actress who portrays Rose, gives a spellbinding performance when she challenges Troy’s view of the world by pointing out her own disappointment in his behavior and her own life. Yet she rises above the situation. There is a great acting chemistry between Hill and Pritchett, which makes Troy’s betrayal profoundly devastating to the audience.

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(L-R)Bradford Barnes, Julanne Chidi Hill, Darryl Alan Reed, and Jay Reeves. Photo by Danny Lam.

The one character that ties all of the family together is Darryl Alan Reed’s memorable performance as Gabe, Troy’s mentally ill brother. It’s no coincidence that Gabe, who carries a trumpet and who is constantly talking to St. Peter will be the vehicle for Troy’s redemption. In fact, I was surprised and delighted by the “deux ex machina” ending reminiscent of the chariot scene in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. This interesting ending reminds the audience that no one escapes death and what that means for those who love you. While Troy may have been a free man in 1950s Pittsburgh, he was still enslaved in a culture by racism, poverty, responsibility, and powerlessness in a world that seemed to be constantly conspiring against him. Closure only comes to Troy’s wife and children, and to the audience, through forgiveness and understanding.

Fences is the sixth in a series of ten plays Wilson called the “Pittsburgh Cycles.” Written in 1985, Fences was the winner of the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and Tony Award for Best Play. In the capable and deft hands of director Wren T. Brown and this fine cast, this smart, funny, captivating, and heart-rending performance of Fences engages the audience with a satisfying story about the human condition.

Tickets for August Wilson’s Fences are sale now from $35 to $60 and can be purchased at www.lonetreeartscenter.org/fences. The Lone Tree Arts Center is located at 10075 Commons Street in Lone Tree. Free on-site parking is available.

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