If you ask me…

- Tom Holehan

Long Wharf Erects Sturdy “Fences"

Playwright August Wilson left a theatrical legacy that included no less than ten plays dealing with African-American life each taking place in a different American decade. “Fences”, set in 1957 and winner of the Pulitzer Prize, is one of the playwright’s best and most accessible plays and at New Haven’s Long Wharf Theatre it is currently enjoying a very solid revival. If you’ve never seen this masterwork by one of the giants of the theatre, now is the time.

Troy Maxson (a powerful Esau Pritchett) is mad at the world. Living in a shabby home in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, Troy is a former star baseball player whose better days are a thing of the past and he’s bitter about the roads not taken in his life. He has two sons by two different women, a sanitation job where the “white man” barely lets him survive and he’s angry at a god who would allow such injustices. When his son, Cory (Chris Myers), has a chance at a football scholarship, Troy’s jealousy flares and causes friction between him and his patient wife, Rose (Portia).

“Fences” is August Wilson’s African-American take on “Death of a Salesman” as a potent domestic tragedy that still resonates with audiences because it is based in truth and humanity. The familiar August Wilson trademarks are here -- the rich characterizations, a plot that takes it time and is enriched with nuance and detail and monologues that become poetic arias in the hands of gifted actors. This all happens at Long Wharf under the skillful direction of Phylicia Rashad. You realize watching “Fences” how thin most contemporary plays are, how lacking in depth of character and forward momentum. This generational drama moves audiences to tears much as “Salesman” did in the 1950s and, though it could wallow in melodrama, Wilson never allows his work to go that route.

The acting company at Long Wharf, led by the compelling central performance of Mr. Pritchett, is strong throughout and includes Phil McGlaston as an agreeable co-worker, Jared McNeill as his ne’re-do-well older son and G. Alverez Reid as his simpleminded brother. Portia underplays Rose’s wounded pride and might have tried a more passionate approach with the character, but she still registers as a fine addition to the company. Chris Myers works against his slight stature - which belies his role as a football player - to still deliver a game performance full of fury and resentment.

John Iacovelli’s realistically detailed scenic design constructs a home that has seen better days and offers revealing views beyond the screen door. Xavier Pierce’s lighting creates expressive shadows in all the right places. In all, Rashad has worked well with a crack design team and a top company of actors to produce a sturdy revival of this great American play.

“Fences” continues at the Long Wharf Theatre through December 22, 2013. For further information or ticket reservations, call the theatre box office at 203.787.4282 or visit: wwwlongwharf.org.

Tom Holehan is one of the original founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.


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