A bleak stage, set and open to view before “Fences” begins, sets audiences up for the bleakness and pain that will soon be portrayed. With space taken up only by a small, two-story brick house fronting a long, brown hill and fronted by a gnarly, gangly tree, Tony Cisek’s stage has plenty of empty space that leaves no room to doubt the coming tone.
That tone is indeed bleak in all harshness. Written by playwright August Wilson, the story revolves around the family of black man Troy, played by Michael Anthony Williams. When the story opens, Troy’s life is presented as hard, but himself as content; he has a good friend he trusts (Bono, played by Jeorge Bennett Watson), a wife he loves (Rose, played by Gayle Samuels), a steady job and a place to call home. The more the audience learns, however, the clearer Troy’s discontentment becomes. Working as a garbage man making barely enough to get by, treated as lesser for his blackness and haunted by his stilted chance at fame as a baseball player in his youth, Troy’s life is a daily struggle just to survive to the end of each week–after which he will merely start the whole process over again.
Williams’ portrayal of Troy is soul-wrenching. He brilliantly–and painfully–portrays the pain of a societally oppressed man with no end to torment in his sight. Instead he is only capable of ensuring his and his family’s survival, nothing more.
The rest of this cast meets Williams exactly at his talent level. Samuels’ Rose is heartrendingly real in her dedication to a man who has lost the life to give back to her, while Watson’s Bono allows the audience another glimpse at loyalty, this time of the friend variety. Jefferson A. Russell’s portrayal of Troy’s mentally disabled brother Gabriel, as well as Biko Eisen-Martin’s Lyons and Jimmie “J.J.” Jeter’s Cory further round out this talented cast. The young Meg Hoglund’s Raynell is the dose of happiness on top, her natural adorable nature conveyed easily on stage for a final note of positivity in an otherwise difficult story.
Of course, the talent of the actors are not enough to make such a play so successful. Wilson’s writing is spot-on to begin with, with lines that feel real even as they cut to the core. PTC’s guest director Timothy Douglas captures that beautifully with this production. His staff of designers only further add to the play’s brilliance.
Worth attending, though not without tissues and the chance for some sort of potential ice cream-splurge later for emotional support, “Fences” is a masterpiece. Showing at PTC from now until Jan. 21, students can get $5 rush tickets an hour before any performance or half price on tickets ordered in advance. More info available here: http://www.pioneertheatre.org/season/2016-2017-season/fences/.
An earlier version of this story misprinted character “Bono” as “Bruno.” We apologize for the mistake.