‘Fences’ by The Gloucester Stage Company

‘Fences’ – Written By August Wilson; Directed by
Eric C. Engel; Presented by The Gloucester Stage Company at the Gorton Theater,
267 East Main St., Gloucester, MA through Sept. 7.



In many ways, “Fences”, the Pulitzer
Prize-winning play by August Wilson now being staged at the Gloucester Stage
Company, is less about race than it is about how familial dies are cast and are
repeated from generation to generation, producing the same unhappy ( I’m tired
of the term dysfunctional) results. Granted, the play features an all-black
cast, and racism is an ever present theme in both dialogue and subtext, but the
problems at the root of the story are pretty universal themes. The apple
doesn’t fall far from the tree, and there are reasons for that. Ducks, as they
say, father ducks,

Troy Maxson (Daver Morrison) is a 53 year old
former Negro Leagues baseball star (and ex-con), now working as a trash
collector in the city of Pittsburgh in 1957, who remains bitter about his
exclusion from Major League Baseball because of his race, although we later
learn that race may not have been the only factor in his not making it to the
bigs. He makes a powerful statement early on when his loving wife Rose tells
him that it had been “too early” to integrate baseball when he was in
his prime. “There ought never been a time when it was ‘too early'” he
angrily retorts, and while he is right, his resentment over the past slight
colors all of his thinking and infects those around him.

The play opens with Troy and his best friend and
prison pal Bono sharing a pint of gin on the back porch of Troy’s modest home
after a tough week of work. The pair have done well for themselves, turning
their lives around after their lengthy prison bids and marrying strong women
who keep them in line. But while Bono seems grateful for his lot, life for Troy
seems to be a constant struggle to be satisfied. Some of it works to his
benefit, as he becomes the first “colored” trash truck driver by not
accepting second class treatment, but most of his dissatisfaction works against
him. He tells a couple of stories to Rose and Bono about facing down the devil
and death, and while Bono is amused, the look on Rose’s face tells a different

Troy also has two sons, Cory and Lyons, from two
different mothers. Troy was absent from Lyons childhood during his prison
sentence, but living under the same roof as Troy has equally deleterious
effects for Cory, who may end up as bitter as his dad if the fates don’t
intervene. We see the darker side of Troy’s character whenever one of his sons
is in the scene (at first when his musician son Lyons shows up to borrow money
then again when Cory wants to go to college to play football), and it sadly foreshadows
what is to come.

This is a first-rate production, and it begins
with the casting. As Troy, Morrison is a perfect blend of charm and explosive
anger. He’s also a convincing athlete with a smooth slugger’s swing when he
brandishes the bat in several scenes. As his no-nonsense wife, Jacqui Parker is
pretty perfect in the role, sympathetic and loving to her children, but
dutifully resigned to what her marriage to Troy has become. Gregory Marlow as
Bono is a terrific counterpoint to Troy’s self-righteous anger, as he’s a lot
more than just an easy-going sidekick. As Gabriel, Jermel Nakia gives a
brilliant performance as Troy’s brain injured brother, no easy task. It’s
probably one of the most difficult acting jobs to play a person with diminished
mental capacity without reducing it to caricature, and Nakia’s performance
manages to be both over-the-top and chilling at times.

This truly was one of the most moving shows I’ve
seen in my short tenure as reviewer, and there were times I wanted to either
lash out at Troy or just get him to shut up before he made matters worse, but
that’s what great theater does. My only (weak) criticism of the show was that
it seemed a little under-rehearsed, which was not a factor until the final
scene when some of the dramatic impact may have come up a bit short. It’s
something I expect to be resolved as the run continues, so don’t miss this
excellent show. For more info, go to:

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