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August Wilson’s Fences ~ Ford’s Theatre

Jordan Wright
October 3, 2019

Hard on the heels of Arena Stage’s ongoing production of Jitney comes Fences, another August Wilson drama and the sixth play in Wilson’s ten-part series the American Century Cycle that chronicles 100 years of the African American experience.  (Jitney, Wilson’s first play in the series, was reviewed here earlier this week.)  It’s clear Wilson has further honed his vision to encapsulate pockets of Black culture with another deeply moving story reflecting both humor and pathos.  Fences depicts the struggles and complex interpersonal relations of the Maxsons, an American family living in a racist society.

Doug Brown, Jefferson A. Russell, Erika Rose and Craig Wallace – Photo by Scott Suchman.

In a family dominated by Troy Maxson, an emotionally detached father who blames his sons for his personal failures and cuckolds his devoted wife, each member is forced to carve out their own truth.  Both sons and wife Rose try to escape his unpredictable moods, but it’s his inability to express love that eventually takes its toll on everyone – including Troy, who lacks both education and basic human understanding.

Justin Weaks and Craig Wallace. Photo by Scott Suchman

Troy’s fifteen-year incarceration for murder took away his promising baseball career in the Negro Leagues and he is still bitter.  Forfeiting his future, he takes a menial sanitation job with the city of Pittsburgh to provide for his family and becomes resentful when his son Cory is offered a football college scholarship. As a result, his jealousy and arrogance fracture their relationship. “I’m the boss around here,” he warns the boy, insisting he doesn’t have to like him and that his only responsibility is to provide for his son’s basic needs.  When Troy refuses to sign a permission slip allowing Cory to accept the college scholarship, Cory tells his father, “You just scared I’m gonna be better than you.”

Erika Rose, Doug Brown, Justin Weaks and Craig Wallace. Photo by Scott Suchman

This is where I struggled to comprehend the sense of this father-son battle.  I wondered, if the father is so resentful of supporting his son, then why doesn’t he allow him to take the scholarship so he can be absolved of further financial responsibility?  How this could be?  As luck would have it, during intermission I had a discussion with an African American acquaintance who told me that he had grown up in a family with twelve children and Troy reminded him of his own father.  When I asked why that was, he told me his father was functionally illiterate like Troy and had no understanding of college.  Shockingly, his father believed it would be a place where his daughters would become prostitutes, and, as for the sons, he claimed their only choice was to learn a manual skill.  I thanked my friend for this insight and can only imagine that it reflects a time within a certain struggling African American community who believed they shouldn’t overstep their bounds.  The play is set in 1957 and opportunities were slow in coming.

Craig Wallace – Photo credit Scott Suchman

Rose is Troy’s long-suffering wife who cleans and cooks and stands by her man despite his drinking and womanizing.  Erika Rose (the actress shares the character’s name) proves to be the perfect counterpart to Craig Wallace’s Troy Maxson, not only in sheer emotionality, but also in fiery intensity.  And Doug Brown as Jim Bono, Troy’s former prison mate and best friend, grants us a character who tempers Troy’s hardheadedness with humor and country wit.

Erika Rose, Janiyah Lucas and Justin Weaks in the Ford’s Theatre production of August Wilson’s “Fences,. Photo by Scott Suchman

Eventually, Troy comes to need Rose in ways he never imagined, and they develop a marital détente.  It is at this point in their already strained relationship that Troy begins to find the words to describe his loneliness and fears of inadequacy, and finally comes to terms with the error of his ways. Troy’s tragedy is lack of compassion, the inability to see outside of himself, and jealousy of his own son’s success.  The result is that it eats him alive and, as we all know, a wooden fence can’t keep out death or the devil.

Highly recommended for a superb cast and Timothy Douglas’ splendid direction.

Additional cast members: KenYatta Rogers as Lyons Maxson, Jefferson A. Russell as Gabriel Maxson, Justin Weaks as Cory Maxson and Janiyah Lucas/Mecca Rogers as Raynell Maxson.

Scenic Design by Lauren Helpern, Costume Design by Helen Huang, Lighting Design by Andrew R. Cissna, Hair and Makeup by Danna Rosedahl, and Sound Design by Nick Hernandez.

Through October 27th at Ford’s Theatre, 511 10th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004.  For tickets call 888.616.0270 or visit www.Fords.org.

 

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