PLAYERS BY THE SEA THEATRE REVIEW
A DUAL CRITICS REVIEW BY DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
Jacksonville Beach’s Players By the Sea and sponsors Scott and Nancy McLucas opened “Fences,” by August Wilson (1945-2005) on March 17, 2017. The play, which received the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for drama, along with a Tony for best play, will remain onstage in the Grace Darling Studio Theatre through April 1.
We suggest that readers who want to see the production — which is one of this year’s most outstanding plays — make reservations immediately. The studio theatre has limited seating, and we’re predicting a sold-out house for almost all performances. And rightly so, as it is one of Wilson’s most popular plays in the Century Cycle, a collection of plays which focuses on the dreams, hopes, struggles, failures, and triumphs of African-American families over the course of ten decades; all but one are set in Wilson’s hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
The play, set in the 1950s, is especially popular now, since the recent release of an acclaimed film version starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis. Davis received the 2017 Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her portrayal of Rose; the film was nominated for (but didn’t win) the award for Best Picture.
The title refers to the wooden fence that Troy, the leading character, is building in the backyard of his modest Pittsburg home. While his wife says the fence is to keep people in, Troy says he wants to keep others out, especially the devil and demon death.
Troy Maxon, brilliantly portrayed by Eugene Lindsey, Jr., is a complex character, who is at times humorous, but can also be angry, blunt, and stubborn, particularly when he is drinking. He has worked for a number of years as a garbage collector, and is proud of his achievement in providing a home for his family. And he looks forward to Friday evenings, when he is joined in his backyard by Jim Bono, his co-worker, best friend, and best drinking buddy, played by accomplished actor David Girard.
Rose, Troy’s patient and loving wife of many years, puts up with his rage, disappointments, grandiosity, and temper because she, after all, loves him. She is believably portrayed by Shauntel Robinson, whom we last saw in Player’s award-winning “Memphis.”
Cory, their son, is superbly played by Chandler Bryant. He is a senior in high school, with a part-time job at a grocery store. He plays football, loves the game, and has a promising future; he may be able to attend college on an athletic scholarship. Troy is totally opposed to this idea; he was a talented baseball player in the past, but wasn’t able to play in the major leagues, which he attributes to the segregation policies of the past. He doesn’t want Cory to experience the same disappointment and rejection and tells him he needs to learn a trade instead.
Chelvert J. Wellington is Lyons, Troy’s son from a previous marriage. He is a budding musician who lives nearby and frequently shows up on paydays to borrow money.
Gabriel is Troy’s brother, who was injured while in the service, and has brain damage. He was unable to manage his financial affairs, and Troy used his disability check to pay for the family’s home where Gabriel lived for a number of years; he is currently living as a boarder in a nearby home because he wants to be independent. He carries a trumpet with him and frequently converses with St. Peter or chases demons. The character is marvelously played by Gregory P. Hughes, who debuted at Players in “Aida” as King of Ethiopia.
In the second act while “looking for some space,” Troy becomes involved with another woman who dies after giving birth to his child. When Troy brings the child home, she is reluctantly accepted by Rose, who tells Troy he is now a “womanless man.” As the play closes several years later, we encounter Raynell, the delightful daughter, portrayed by Essence Moore, whose previous stage experience was as a dancer with Enterprise Learning Academy.
“Fences” was cast and directed by Jereme Raickett who also directed last year’s “Memphis.” He graduated from Douglas Anderson School of the Arts, and has been involved in many dance and theatrical projects in addition to appearing on stage in a number of roles at Alhambra Theatre and Dining.
Set Designer Jay Deen’s authentic dwelling made us feel as if we were actually sitting in the haven of Troy’s backyard.
The Production Crew included: Jereme Raickett (Director & Lighting Designer), Janet Chavous (Stage Manager), Jay Deen (Set Designer), Eric Yarham (Sound Designer), Keisha Burr (Costume Designer), Gayle Featheringill (Seamstress), and Amy Hancock (Costume Manager).
Don’t miss this marvelous production by August Wilson, which is an exploration of the responses of strong characters to personal and societal complexities. Call 249-0289 or visit playersbythesea.org for reservations.