theater

Review: August Wilson’s Fences

By Michelle Wilson, Guest Blogger

Fences is a story of a black, working class family that opens in the back yard of a blue-collar, urban setting in the late 1950’s. Troy Maxson is the father of two children, both from different mothers. He has one son that is still living at home, along with his wife Rose.

The relationship between Troy and Rose is much the typical one of that era, where the husband works and mother stays home to raise the children. It is apparent that Troy’s attitude toward his son Cory, aptly played by Jay Reeves, is uptight as he was brought up in a time period that believed he was born with two strikes against him before he came to the plate. That thought process has followed him throughout his life and is finally coming to a head. His outdated opinion of what is important proves difficult change is a sign of the times.

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Esau Pritchett as Troy Maxson. Photo by Danny Lam

Esau Pritchett’s delivery of Maxson is soulful, sincere, and strong. He’s an attention grabber with apparent emotion. He truly evolves into the part of an uneasy man striving to maneuver through family life overtaken with promiscuity and drinking. He is expected to stay the path of what is required of him at home but is called to a sincere struggle when things start to get out of hand in his life. Pritchett puts his heart into the character and absorbs the audience with his precise timing. Troy becomes an unruly, broken man in an implied fight between God and himself.

Julanne Chidi Hill begins her portrayal of a pleasing Rose, a woman who knows her place but carries a hint of position, regardless. Hill’s motherly tenure is evident in this representation of a protector, with a son who is merely striving to be a regular kid. She holds court and gathers dismay as the audience becomes emotionally engaged with a crucial delivery in the second act.

A gratifying supporting cast provides a stellar job as a whole. The show’s shining moment occurs when Gabriel, played by Darryl Alan Reed, delivers a spot-on performance of a mentally disabled man trying to make his way through life in his happy-go-lucky way. His attentive portrayal is weighty and spot-on without feeling overdone.

After being left on the edge of my seat, scene changes felt a bit long and I found myself listening to the words of the period music and becoming a bit restless. With a quick recovery, the show has a nice pace, regardless.

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Esau Pritchett and Bradford Barnes. Photo by Danny Lam.

Set design is one of the production’s strongest assets. Simplistic yet detailed. The intrinsic nature of weeds making their way through the cracks of the concrete and a random antenna on top of an apartment building, are what make this set realistic and charming. Kudos to designer Edward E. Haynes, Jr.

At this particular performance, two cell phones rang in the audience during scenes. We, as an audience, have a responsibility to minimize distractions as a courtesy, not only to the actors on stage, but also to fellow audience members. I found this to be inappropriate and disappointing, although we had been asked to silence our phones prior to curtain.

This is a timely show for today’s war against racism and the associated societal struggles. It was a pleasure to see a mixed cultural group of audience members coming together to encounter the way things used to be as we venture forward into America’s next phase.


August Wilson’s Fences runs at the Lone Tree Arts Center until April 21st. Tickets are available online here, over the phone at 720-509-1000, and in-person at the Box Office.

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.

Getting to know…Jay Reeves

jay reeves theatName: Jay Reeves

Role: Cory

Hometown: Newark, New Jersey

What about Fences speaks to you as an artist?: Fences speaks to me in many different ways. The everyday love dynamic of a family rocks my soul.

What’s your biggest challenge when taking on this role?: Not listening to my Pops when he’s talking. Troy Maxson is a tough man.

Favorite role (that you’ve played or that you want to play?): I’d hope to one day play Spiderman or Static Shock. I’d save the world as we know it today.

When you have a five minute break during rehearsal, what do you spend that time doing?: Easy one haha! I spend my time doing football tricks and tossing the pigskin.


Come and see Jay and the rest of our cast in August Wilson’s Fences, from April 5 – 21, with a preview night on April 4. Click here to buy tickets. 

Getting to know…Nylah Langford

Nylah's PhotoName: Nylah Langford

Role: Raynell

Hometown: Aurora, Colorado

What about Fences speaks to you as an artist?
I think Fences is a really great play.  It’s nice to learn about how the 1950s were – times were really different back then.  I am able to feel the emotion of that time period and put that emotion back into acting out each scene.

What’s your biggest challenge when taking on this role?
My biggest challenge with this role would have to be playing a role of a younger girl.

Favorite role (that you’ve played or that you want to play)?
My favorite role that I’ve played would have to be the Director in The Final Dress Rehearsal. A role that I would like to play would be Little Inez in Hairspray.

When you have a five-minute break during rehearsal, what do you spend that time doing? Hanging out with the cast, eating (mostly something sweet), and going over my lines.


Come and see Nylah and the rest of our cast in August Wilson’s Fences, from April 5 – 21, with a preview night on April 4. Click here to buy tickets. 

Getting to know…Julanne Chidi Hill

JCHName: Julanne Chidi Hill

Role: Rose

Hometown: Born in Los Angeles, CA and raised in Altadena, CA

Bonus Fact! Julanne and Leonard Earl Howze go way back – they went to high school together in L.A. and college in New York!

What about Fences speaks to you as an artist? A few things that come to mind are the social relevance of the play and the language. The rhythm and motion in the words. He has created these beautifully flawed characters with cultural specificity.

What’s your biggest challenge when taking on this role?  Perhaps the biggest challenge is honoring the role to the fullest extent, in a way that will help inform and clarify others perception of Rose and the choices she makes.

Favorite role (that you’ve played or that you want to play?): I am currently playing Rose in August Wilson’s Fences…and right now, she’s my favorite!!

When you have a five minute break during rehearsal, what do you spend that time doing? I usually take that time to regroup, have a sip of coffee and I try to step outside for a sec to breathe in the fresh air of Colorado.


Come and see Julanne and the rest of our cast in August Wilson’s Fences, from April 5 – 21, with a preview night on April 4. Click here to buy tickets. 

Getting to know…Leonard Earl Howze

howze01Name: Leonard Earl Howze

Role: Bono

Hometown: Los Angeles, California

What about Fences speaks to you as an artist?: The way August Wilson writes the relationships in Fences is poignant, gripping, and truthful. Yes, he’s writing about the black experience. Yet he’s also writing about the human experience. When you listen to those voices, they speak to the heart.

What’s your biggest challenge when taking on this role?: A challenge in playing the role of Bono is one similar to reality. Where we’re put in difficult situations to shine a light and deliver the hard truth on the wrong doings of close friends, in an effort to get them back on track.

Favorite role (that you’ve played or that you want to play)?: I must say, every role that I’ve had the honor of doing means something special to me. They have all contributed and played a significant part in the journey of my career.

When you have a five-minute break during rehearsal, what do you spend that time doing?: My 5 min break is a time to get a breather from the intensity of the work. Also, with being new to this Colorado altitude, it’s time to pee. lol – no but seriously.


Come and see Leonard and the rest of our cast in August Wilson’s Fences, from April 5 – 21, with a preview night on April 4. Click here to buy tickets. 

Getting to know…Darryl Alan Reed

Darryl Alan Reed 2Name: Darryl Alan Reed

Role: Gabriel

Hometown: Chicago, IL

What about Fences speaks to you as an artist?: What speaks to me as an artist regarding Fences is the identification of fatherhood and the role of baseball in my life. My father played, I played (even had the opportunity to try out for the Chicago Cubs!). In addition, my baseball idol, Roberto Clemente, is mentioned significantly and singularly within the play.

What’s your biggest challenge when taking on this role?: A particular challenge for me is making sure Gabriel is not a caricature.

Favorite role (that you’ve played or that you want to play)?: My favorite role(s) are Gabriel and Stool-Pigeon (from King Hedley II), which I was so far able to understudy and help prepare for, but not actually perform for a paid audience.

When you have a five minute break during rehearsal, what do you spend that time doing?: During break I check messages and use the bathroom, due to my increased water intake while here in Colorado!


Come and see Darryl and the rest of our cast in August Wilson’s Fences, from April 5 – 21, with a preview night on April 4. Click here to buy tickets. 

Getting to know…Bradford Barnes

Bradford BarnesName: Bradford Barnes

Role: Lyons

Hometown: Oakland, California

What about Fences speaks to you as an artist?: The retelling and exploration of a black family in the 1950’s and how that era helped reflect each characters’ individual points of view.

What’s your biggest challenge when taking on this role?: My biggest challenge was not holding my character up to my personal standards in life. Like an onion, I want to continue peeling away layers in order to find the truth and essence of Lyons, not only as a musician but also as a young man.

Favorite role (that you’ve played or that you want to play?): A favorite role I’d love to play is Iago in Shakespeare’s Othello.

When you have a five minute break during rehearsal, what do you spend that time doing?: On a five (or ten) minute break, I usually put on my headphones and find a nice secluded place to dance. Most of the time I’m pop locking and gliding to old school music. It’s very relaxing and I return to rehearsal feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.

 


Come and see Bradford and the rest of our cast in August Wilson’s Fences, from April 5 – 21, with a preview night on April 4. Click here to buy tickets. 

Getting to know…Esau Pritchett

Esau_PritchettName: Esau Pritchett

Role: Troy Maxson

Home: Saginaw, MI

What about Fences speaks to you as an artist?: Fences speaks to me because it addresses the convention of the fall of the tragic hero,  but in the guise of a more contemporary working class black man in America.

What’s your biggest challenge when taking on this role?: My biggest challenge is being careful not to judge my character Troy – allowing for a greater and more truthful exploration of the character as written by August Wilson and not sanitized through my own contemporary and judgmental filter.

Favorite role (that you’ve played or that you want to play?): My favorite role is always the role I’m currently working on. Therefore, Troy is my favorite role.

When you have a five minute break during rehearsal, what do you spend that time doing?: I drink lots of coffee.


Come and see Esau and the rest of our cast in August Wilson’s Fences, from April 5 – 21, with a preview night on April 4. Click here to buy tickets. 

Preview: Home for the Holidays

Home for the Holidays 2017_headerBy Kristi Andrus, Guest Blogger

I fully admit that I’m a Christmas girl. That’s why I’m looking forward to Home for the Holidays. It’s a hometown favorite filled with holiday comforts – the songs and characters that we anticipate each year, and because it’s a variety show, you can also expect something for everyone – singing, dancing, drumming, Santa, his wife, local musicians, special guest performers, and so much energy.

The theme this year is holidays through the ages and the show is appropriate for audiences of all ages. I’m going on a date with my daughter, who just turned five. We can’t wait to get dressed up and have a mommy/daughter night, just the two of us. We’ll undoubtedly over-accessorize. Brother and Sister will have to wait for their big nights out at another performance.

Santa is played by local actor Colin Alexander, last seen in LTAC’s The Explorers Club. Mrs. Claus (Maggie Lamb) will co-host with Santa, and Rob Costigan, last seen in LTAC’s EVITA, will emcee. I already love it – there’s an emcee! Trent Hines, most recently seen in the Denver Center’s The Wild Party is the musical director. And, Piper Lindsay Arpan, co-host of LTAC’s Reunion ’85, is not only assistant directing, she’s also assistant choreographer, dance captain, and dancing in the show. Doesn’t all that multi-tasking make you want to ask her about her holiday traditions? She’s obviously enormously talented and a scheduling pro, so she’s probably already decorated her home from top to bottom, wrapped stacks of presents with homemade touches, and sent out the most gorgeous holiday card ever.

The show runs from Thursday, December 7 – Sunday, December 17. That’s only ten days folks, and we are in the thick of Christmas chaos, so buy your tickets today. We’ll be going opening night, so look for my review, with perspective provided by my daughter, shortly thereafter.

And don’t forget the advantage of taking in a show at Lone Tree Arts Center, a beautiful state-of-the-art facility without the hassle, parking, and competitiveness of seeing a show downtown. I mean it’s worth it of course, but it’s also a lot on top of a lot at this time of year. LTAC is the opposite of that. It’s almost as convenient as having the performance in your home, without all the furniture rearranging to accommodate and none of the cleanup. Enjoy!

For tickets and more information go to: http://www.lonetreeartscenter.org/homefortheholidays.