PlayMakers Repertory Company has been lacking one thing in its rich 35-year history — a production of an August Wilson play.
Tonight, the company will premiere “Fences,” its first work by the celebrated American playwright.
The play follows a black family as they struggle to overcome failed dreams and racial prejudices in 1950s Pittsburgh.
Female lead Kathryn Hunter-Williams, a professor in the Department of Dramatic Art, said that she is thrilled about the play’s premiere on the Paul Green Stage.
“It’s beautifully crafted,” said Hunter-Williams, the only resident PlayMakers actor in the production.
“The language of the characters, the family dynamics and the family portrait that is drawn is so rich and full of life.”
“Fences” centers on the character of Troy, a former Negro League Baseball player who was unable to move up to the major leagues due to the racist climate of his time. The play presents him as a bitter man who works for the sanitation department to support his wife and son.
The plot follows Troy as he projects his feelings of inadequacy onto his 17-year-old son who, like his father, shows considerable athletic promise.
Seasoned TV and stage actor Charlie Robinson will play Troy — a role that he said is close to his heart.
“Every time I play this role I grow as a person and also as an actor,” Robinson said. “I learn so much about myself through doing it.”
The complex family relationships and powerful dialogue present considerable challenges for the actors.
But Robinson — best known for his role as Mac on NBC’s “Night Court” — welcomes the unpredictability of Wilson’s work, and said that this spontaneity makes the play exhilarating for audiences.
“One second you’re laughing and one second you’re crying,” he said.
“The rhythms in his work are so bluesy and it’s just like listening to improvisations in jazz or blues, because you never know what’s going to happen.”
PlayMaker’s Artistic Production Director Joseph Haj said that the introduction of August Wilson to UNC is long overdue.
“I’ve been here since 2006 and the idea of getting an August Wilson play into our season has been part of a conversation every year since I’ve been here,” Haj said.
This year, that conversation paid off. The company decided to bring in the necessary guest artists to pull off the production, Haj said.
“It’s thrilling,” Haj said. “They’re an unbelievably gifted company of actors. I’ve loved watching this play grow.”
Previously, PlayMakers did not host enough black resident actors to capture the demographic of Wilson’s works, much of which celebrate the black experience. This is the first year the budget has allowed for the necessary number of guest performers.
Director Seret Scott has interpreted many of Wilson’s works. The connection that audiences form with the characters makes the play particularly exciting, she said.
“That’s the most wonderful part of it — that people see themselves in the play no matter what ethnicity they are,” Scott said. “They see the same story, the same people.”
It’s this universality that has made “Fences” such a powerful work, Scott said.
“You just have to enjoy it,” Robinson added. “I guarantee that you are going to walk out of that theater and will be moved in some way.”
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