It was a sold out show on Thursday at the Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre as yinzers far and wide gathered to see August Wilson’s 1983 play, Fences. The performance takes place in the 1950s during the beginning of the civil rights movement in none other than the Pittsburgh region where Wilson was born. This timeless tale centers around a character named Troy Maxson (Kevin Brown) and his wife Rose Maxson (Sandra Dowe) who struggle over varying viewpoints on how to raise their son Cory (Carter Redwood) in the ever-changing society around them. The audience anxiously waited to see what the night had in store.
Fences originally premiered on Broadway in 1987 starring James Earl Jones as Troy, which later won him a Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play. Reviews of a recent 2013 British production of Fences focused mainly on actor Lenny Henry’s performance of Troy, which was described as “magnificent,” “superb,” and “perfectly controlled.” From these reviews alone it is clear that whoever is brave enough to take on the role of Troy in this performance must do so with the utmost determination to fully encompass this character. Brown not only met expectations, but exceeded them. He made me love, loath, pity, sympathize, and grieve with his character all in a matter of three hours. He was more than brilliant in intertwining his determinacy to be a good father with his hypocritical tendencies.
Brown’s performance not only captivated the audience throughout the evening, but also amplified Dowe’s, who effortlessly portrayed the caring and compassionate Rose. Her humble approach to this character was spot on with nurturing undertones that made you want to hug her on more than one occasion throughout the performance. Their varying viewpoints on raising Cory left you on the side of Rose more often than not as the young boy struggled to find his place. Redwood’s performance of this character was equally as captivating, though it sometimes felt a bit over-acted. Nevertheless, this brilliant yet broken family left you wondering what drama was going to unfold next.
There were several other performers in this play including Gabriel Maxson (Bryant Bentley), Troy’s brother who suffered a head injury during his service in WWII; Lyons Maxson (Maurice Redwood), Troy’s first son whom he had with another woman; Jim Bono (Wali Jamal), Troy’s best friend and co-worker; and Raynell Maxson (Nia Woodson) Troy’s daughter that stems from an affair he partakes in later in the performance. While all these performances were spectacular, I was extremely impressed by Bentley’s portrayal of Gabriel who, although severely mentally disabled, seems to be able to predict Troy’s fate before he can himself. Redwood also performed the perfect portrayal of a loveable deadbeat while Woodson illuminated the stage with the innocence of Raynell, and Jamal displayed the essence of a more than dependable best friend.
The setting for this play was inside and outside of he Maxson’s household with a rotating set to display each or both of the scenes at the appropriate times. The outside setting displayed a homely porch, with a half-built fence, and rugged old ball tied to a string where Troy often practices or reminisces about baseball. The inside was a small kitchen setting where the Maxson family often gathers to discuss matters or have a meal. The setting was beautifully built and just enough to satisfy the needs of the actors around it. I particularly like the split scene when Raynell is first brought home by Troy who sits outside on the porch and wondered what the other side of the audience was seeing from the inside viewpoint of Rose.
Overall, the cast of characters expertly entangled the themes of family values, tradition, blues, and death in this coming of age performance. I can honestly say there wasn’t a dull moment throughout the night as the actors more than kept my attention in each of the scenes. If you haven’t done so yet be sure to catch this riveting performance at Pittsburgh Playwrights before you miss your chance.
Directed by Mark Clayton Southers
Runs May 9-30, 2015 at Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre. For tickets and more information click here.
Performance Date: Thursday, May 21, 2015