The power of PlayMakers Repertory Company’s production of August Wilson’s “Fences” is its biting realism.
Director Seret Scott’s cast portrays a socially segregated 1950s Pittsburgh, where living between paydays wears away at old dreams and diminishes the promise of a hopeful future.
PlayMakers REpertory Company
Saturday, OCt. 30
IF?YOU?GO Time: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, through Nov. 14 Location: Paul Green Theatre Info: www.playmakersrep.org
As the play advances, a fence is slowly built around the protagonists’ home — and while keeping worldly hardships out, the barrier also keeps troubles captured within.
At the play’s center is Troy Maxson, played by Charlie Robinson. As a former Negro League ball player drowning in a culture of limited opportunities, Robinson is brilliantly bitter.
Whether spouting sexual jokes or weaving nostalgic stories of his difficult past, Robinson buys — and hence owns — the audience’s attention from start to finish of the two hour-plus play.
His unexpected eruptions of frenzied wrath, with bulging neck veins and steely eyes, drive the show.
But Robinson finds his biggest power in a tender scene on a darkened stage. While cradling his newborn daughter, Robinson sings the blues.
Countering the precarious Troy is his wife Rose, played by Kathryn Hunter-Williams. Hunter-Williams is an equalizer — without the actress, a surplus of emotional male tirades would overwhelm.
But when the steadfast wife of 18 years learns of her husband’s affair, her deadpan defense allows the performer to dive into soulful, groaning retorts, receiving shouts of encouragement from women in the opening night’s audience.
Robinson’s Troy also strains his relationship with his athletically talented son, Cory, played by Yaegel Welch.
Troy, whose baseball career was halted by bigotry in the professional leagues, views sports as a dead-end career prospect for his son.
Though Welch may exaggerate Cory’s youth, “Fence’s” father-son battles are ruthless and well-fought.
When the second act flashes forward some seven years, Troy’s youngest daughter Raynell, played by Tania Smith, is well-timed, heart-warming and nicely accentuated by the young lady’s cadence. Smith’s haughty attitude blends superbly with the rest of the family.
All is played against scenic designer Jan Chambers’ gritty set of a city back stoop, whose brick-walls fade into a patch of dim sky.
The lighting is subtle and effective, often spotlighting characters’ varying arguments and wholly dimming or alighting with the many general mood swings.
The whole cast grabs Wilson’s language with mastery. The mid-century black vernacular pours out of their mouths like the smooth, bouncing jazz music from the Paul Green Theatre sound system during scene changes.
Doubling as Cory’s coming-of-age story and the progression of his father’s degradation and final demise, the play is strong in its darkness.
When Cory, with stunned face, stumbles out of his childhood home and Troy vocally taunts an unseen devil, raw and realistic feelings of anguish are devastatingly up front.
PlayMakers has staged an aggressive and poignant spectacle that is not to be missed.
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