August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, “Fences,” is now on stage at Long Wharf Theatre’s Main Stage in New Haven. Wilson, who followed Eugene O’Neill’s idea of a cycle of plays, created 10. Each cycle represents a decade of the 20th Century. “Fences” is his fifth play and therefore depicts characters living in the 1950s.
Directed by Phylicia Rashad, overall, the production maintains the integrity of the distinguished black American playwright. However, some of the characters are not easily understood. Either they don’t enunciate clearly or when they speak with their backs to the audience it is especially difficult to understand them. The latter has to do with the blocking of the characters on the stage and that falls into the domaine of the director.
Other than that, the performances are strong. Troy Maxson is the protagonist and resents that he is a garbage man, when he could have been a major league baseball player if he had been born later. Since he was born when black men were not allowed in the major leagues, he feels that he has been cheated of his true life’s ambition. When his teenage son has a chance at a career in football, he refuses to give him that opportunity. He contacts the school and tells officials that he doesn’t want college scouts to give his son Cory any offers. He denies his own son what was denied to him. Not only is Maxson a vengeful man, but he is so angry at the world that he even betrays his loving wife. He has an affair with another woman and that woman gets pregnant.
It’s very difficult for an actor to play Maxson and not have the audience hating him. Esau Pritchett manages to do just that. He plays the role with such genuineness that the audience understands his frustration. It’s hard on a person who has been denied the chance to be what he was meant to be.
On the other hand his wife Rose, played by Portia, quickly endears herself to the audience. This is a good woman who plays by all the rules, even when they are stacked against her. Portia wins over the audience by staying true to her character’s loving, loyal and caring ways to her husband and her family.
Chris Myers as Cory also tugs on the audience’s heartstrings when he is treated so badly by his resentful father. Here’s a young man who is willing to do just about anything to satisfy his father and still play the game he loves. His disappointment leads him to a whole different direction — the U.S.Marines. Rounding off this talented cast are: Phil McClaston, Jared McNeill, G. Alverez Reid and Taylor Dior.
Somewhat disappointing is the set designed by John Iacovelli. The house is so isolated that it doesn’t look like it’s a part of a neighborhood. The fences are even more important when seen as closing off the entire Pittsburg neighborhood. Nonetheless, the play is so great that it shines through any minor problems. The play is a masterpiece. August Wilson insisted on an all black cast and an all black production even as color blind casting was ushered in. He wanted nothing to interfere with the authenticity of his work and the time and place it represented. This plays through Dec. 22. Box office: 203-787-4282.
Joanne Greco Rochman is an active member in The American Theatre Critics Association, and covers art and culture in a blog for CBS and CBS-CT. She welcomes comments. Contact: [email protected]