City Theatre Company delivers a strong production of August Wilson's 1987 Pulitzer winner
Reviewed by Hannah Kenah, Fri., March 13, 2009
City Theatre, through March 22
Running time: 2 hr, 20 min
August Wilson is often described as a poet turned playwright. The description fits well with the experience one has when watching his plays. His words turn any scene, from a simple homecoming to a shattering confession, into a poetic distillation of the human experience. And though the words float above everyday language, they remain entirely accessible. City Theatre Company's production of Fences upholds the power of Wilson's writing. It doesn't feel like heightened language; it feels like heightened beauty.
In 1987, August Wilson won the Pulitzer Prize for Fences, one of the 10 plays from his Pittsburgh Cycle, which chronicles the African-American experience throughout the 20th century. Set in 1957, Fences takes place in the yard of the Maxson household, the landscape through which we get to know this cast of interwoven characters. Troy Maxson, the patriarch, is the flawed centerpiece around whom the other characters revolve. His wife, Rose, patiently tends to the home and the people flowing through it. These include Troy's brother, Gabriel, a wounded war veteran who carries a trumpet, believing himself to be an archangel and waiting for the time when he will be called upon to open the gates of heaven; Troy's sons, Lyons and Cory; and Troy's best friend, Bono. Over the course of the story, we see many facets of Troy: brute, bad father, former criminal, lover, friend, hard worker, revolutionary. He threatens his son Cory and forbids him to play football. He ridicules his son Lyons, a musician, and refuses to hear him play. He jokes with his friend Bono. He fights against and breaks through a racial barrier at his place of work, becoming the first black man to be a driver for the garbage-collection company. There is true tenderness between him and Rose, but it crumbles when we learn he has impregnated another woman. When his mistress dies in childbirth, Troy pleads with Rose to help raise the baby girl. Rose tells him, "From right now, this baby's got a mother, but you a womanless man." In the end, we find ourselves at Troy's funeral, where even those with good reason to despise him choose to honor him.
City Theatre Company delivers a strong production of Wilson's drama. The intricate set provides a living, breathing back yard. Lisa Jordon's direction is imperceptible, creating interactions that feel fluid and natural. Only the overly long scene changes and halfhearted attempts at building a fence take one out of this immersive world. The cast works well together, led by the ever-impressive Gina Houston as Rose and Robert Pellette, who delivers a conflicted, passionate, and frightening Troy. Richard Romeo is powerful as Cory, the son who fights to free his own life from his father's shadow. The most transcendent performance of the night is delivered by McArthur Moore, who plays the brother/angel/fool/prophet Gabriel. He roams the stage, singing, barking at hellhounds, and talking about his friend St. Peter. The character bursts in at odd moments, and each and every time, the stage lights up with Moore's presence. His fight to get his brother's soul into heaven will most likely leave you teary-eyed.
Gabriel's fight is the final image of the play. Though Troy is dead, Cory is still angry with his father. He doesn't want to attend the funeral. Rose chides him for his disrespect. She explains that Troy did the best he could with the life he was given. And now that is what Cory must do: live his own life and find his own way. Gabriel enters and tells Rose it is time. Gabriel attempts to blow his trumpet for St. Peter, but the trumpet makes no sound. Tossing the broken instrument aside, Gabriel shouts and shouts until those pearly gates are flung wide for his brother's imperfect soul. It is a heart-wrenching demonstration of love, the culmination of an admirable performance, and the completion of a powerful night of theatre.