★★★★★ August Wilson has brought some amazing stories to the stages of America. His works explore the heritage of the African-American population in relation to their lives in America over the course of the 20th century, and the plays are called The American Century Cycle ( each play is a different and unique decade). “Fences” his third of the ten play “cycle” is about Troy Maxson ( played to perfection by Kamal Angelo Bolden) who was a ball player in the Negro League. In fact, one might call him a star in that league. It is 1957. Jackie Robinson is a major leaguer and Troy is a garbage man in Pittsburgh. By the way, all of Wilson’s stories are based in Pittsburgh. His dreams crashed because he was not asked to play in the majors, he lives his life sort of day to day, working and moaning that even in the industry of the garbage removal business, he can only be a worker, not a driver. The drivers are all white.
He has a family. He has two sons. Lyons ( William Anthony Sebastian Rose II) who lives with his wife, but comes to visit his dad every pay-day, and Cory ( a powerful performance by Ajax Dontavius) who is a high school football player, but Troy holds him back. Troy’s wife, Rose ( a standout performance by Shanesia Davis) is a loving and caring person who makes sure that everyone is well fed. I must tell you that there are several emotional scenes where she will bring a tear to your eye, so I suggest you bring some tissues.
The other characters in the play are Jim Bono ( deftly handled by Martel manning) who is Troy’s best friend and Friday drinking buddy, and Gabriel ( Manny Buckley) an uncle that seems to be a little touched and troubled. Keep a close eye on him as the play progresses as there will be a moment where he will draw you into his heart and soul. The last character is Raynell ( the adorable Riley Wells). She is the surprise in the show and one that I will not explain as you need to watch Wilson’s plot unwind in his fashion ( which is perfection).
Directed by Monty Cole, we are treated to a very intimate staging of this classic. In most cases, I have seen this play on a much larger stage in a much larger theater. The way that American Blues Theater presents this production at Theater Wit ( Theater 3) is unique. The stage area is the center of the venue. As you enter the theater, there are two rows of seats to your right and one row, elevated on the other side. On the stage there are also 5 cushions where the actors will take a seat when they are not ONSTAGE. I was concerned that this would be a distraction but Cole’s direction counters their presence with captivating action on the stage itself.
This is a story about bitterness over the bumps that life can throw at one. It is also a play about trying to live the American Dream. The fence that Troy is putting up around his property is a symbol of “making it”. Having a fence keeps his family safe and evil out. But, in reality does it? With all of the setbacks in Troy’s life, one might understand his bitterness. Is he jealous that Cory might become a football star? Or is he protecting him from the doom that is waiting at the end of the tunnel. His experience is all he knows and he does not want his son to have the same failure. Rose is a special woman, keeping all the emotions of her men from exploding. When she gets hit with a surprise and her life gets somewhat scrambled, she shows her true strength and resiliency. I will say no more about this part, except to tell you that seeing this play in an intimate space brought its meaning much closer to me and I am sure you will feel likewise.
I have always said that seeing a play again does not mean you are seeing the same play. While the words written by Wilson are the same, the interpretation and staging by Cole and the characters built by this amazing cast makes the play even stronger. The set (Yeaji Kim) is simple and yet fitting. The lighting ( Jared Gooding) and sound (Rick Sims) were just right. Verity Neely’s props and Stephanie Cluggisi’s costumes worked and the Intimacy and Fighting direction ( quite realistic if I may add) by Charlie Baker and Daniel C. Brown breathtaking.
“Fences” will continue at Theater Wit located at 1229 West Belmont thru August 6th with performances as follows:
Thursdays 7:30 p.m.
Fridays 7:30 p.m.
Saturdays 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. ( no evening show on August 6th)
Sundays 2:30 p.m.
Tickets range from $25-$45 plus $2.75 Theater Wit Venue Fee and are available by calling 773-975-8150 or at www.americanbluestheater.com
Covid policy- Theater Wit requires a vac card and photo ID- you must wear a face mask during the entire performance which is two acts running time with intermission 2 hours 25 minutes
With only 60 seats available per performances, I suggest you figure out when and order your tickets right away. You do not want to miss this exciting production.
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “Fences”.