by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
Stage Aurora opened August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award Winning play “Fences.” The play actually garnered two Tonys, in 1987 for Best Play and again in 2010 for Best Play Revival.
” Fences” is the sixth in the “Pittsburg Cycle,” a series of ten plays that the late Wilson wrote about African-American life during successive decades of the twentieth century. To our knowledge , this is the first Jacksonville production, and as one of his best plays, is one you don’t want to miss.
The setting is Pittsburgh in 1957. Troy Maxson is 53 years old, and a hard-working garbage man. He is married and lives with his wife Rose, and son Cory. The play opens on a happy note, with Troy and Bono, his best buddy of many years, enjoying a few drinks and trading jokes in the front yard.
Troy, though, is unhappy; as a younger man he was a great baseball player in the Negro leagues. He is bitter and feels he was overlooked by the major leagues due to his color. In reality he was in his forties when the color line was broken in baseball by Jackie Robinson in 1945 and Troy, as his wife points out, was just too old for a major league career.
Troy ( Eugene Lindsey, in a brilliant tour de force performance), has issues with his son Cory (Jean Hyppolite gives a strong believable performance), who wants to play football. Troy does not want him to pursue a sports career and insists that he get a job at the A&P. His son Lyons (Joseph Wells) from a previous marriage is 34, a budding musician always coming by to borrow money on Troy’s payday. Bono, (depicted flawlessly by Patric Robinson) is more than a good-times drinking buddy, he cares deeply about his friend.
Troy was able to buy his home with the help of his brother’s disability check for a war injury. Gabriel (Mark Curtis Little, in an excellent portrayal), will make you laugh at his antics, as he frequently faces upward talking to St. Peter or is chasing away personal demons. Yes, you will laugh; but only until you learn he suffered brain damage in combat which has caused his erratic behavior.
Rose (Kaye Kernisant, in a marvelous performance) is Troy’s wife of 18 years and is the glue that holds this marriage together as a strong and devoted woman. In mid play, Troy, “looking for some space, ” impregnates another woman. When the mistress dies in childbirth, Troy brings the baby girl home. Rose somewhat reluctantly agrees to raise the child, but firmly tells Troy that he is in now a “womanless man.” In the final scene of Act Two, six years have passed, and we meet the delightful and well-mannered Raynell, in a charming performance by Dausyn Kernisant.
The title “Fences” refers to the fence that Troy is building around his house. Rose badgers him to build it because she wants to secure what is theirs. With the fence, Troy wants to keep others out, especially the devil and the demon death which he obsessively fears.
The Stage Aurora Set Design and Stage Crew with Edward Hall, Thomas Law, Roxann Hilbert, and Jocelyn Petty have created a picture perfect replica of the 1950’s. The spacious stage includes the facade of a modest brick home with a wooden porch, and with a yard filled with leaves, trees, and greenery, along with some wooden chairs and sawhorses.
The costumes by Sandra Levy-Donawa and Valerie Bailey were from the era, with both casual and formal clothes, that included work clothes for the men and simple patterned dresses for Rose.
This mesmerizing show is two hours and forty-five minutes long (including intermission). In our brief description of the story, we have only highlighted some of the plot since we don’t want to spoil your enjoyment of this production.
Darryl Reuben Hall, the founder and dynamic driving force behind Stage Aurora, has done a marvelous job of casting and directing. He has double cast several of the roles to accommodate work and school schedules; when you go you may see Shauntel Robinson as Rose, Leroy Gordon as Bono, Michael Ward as Cory, Joiakin Joe Foster as Lyons and Jewel Johnson as Raynell.
Wilson is considered one of American’s greatest playwrights, and his two Pulitzer Prizes for Drama bear that out. His plays remarkably depict the comic and tragic aspects of the African-American experience in the Twentieth Century. With “Fences,” The Dual Critics have seen six of the ten plays of the “Pittsburgh Cycle;” we hope all of his work will eventually be produced in the North Florida area.
by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM