Regional Reviews: Phoenix
ATC is co-producing this show with two other theatre companies: Indiana Repertory Theatre in Indianapolis, where this production plays March 9 April 3; and Milwaukee Repertory Theater, where it runs April 26 - May 22. Theatregoers in those cities should get their tickets now to make sure they don't miss out on what is one of the best nights I've had in the theatre in a very long time.
Fences is set in the late 1950s in Pittsburgh where garbage man Troy Maxson appears to finally have everything in his life in order. He has a loving, caring wife, Rose, and a steady job, plus a house that is his own. But everything isn't as solid as it seems. The impact of shattered hopes and dreams and the resentment those things can bring plus a heavy dose of betrayal are right around the corner. Troy has two sons and his past mistakes and bitterness have firmly established what he wants for them. Due to his expectations, Troy refuses to see his grown, lazy, wannabe jazz musician son Lyons play gigs with his band and he thwarts the ambitions of his teenage son Cory to play football in college because Troy's own dreams of being a professional major league baseball player were taken away. But was Troy too old to play ball or just the wrong color? His baseball success was before Jackie Robison became the first African American to play in the majors in 1947. Troy is also in the midst of building a fence around his yard. Troy's co-worker Bono tells him that "some people build fences to keep people out and other people build fences to keep people in." We quickly learn which type of person Troy is as he tries to keep everyone in his life in the place that he wants them to be. But betrayal, anger and fear are swirling around Troy and his family in Wilson's exceptional, evocative, and thought-provoking drama.
While it is a long play, running two and a half hours plus intermission, there are no extraneous scenes and the story and characters are always intriguing. Wilson created characters and situations that anyone who has ever experienced some form of dysfunctional family dynamics can identify with, regardless of race. And while Troy is an anti-hero, you never doubt why he does the things he does, which is a testament to Wilson's writing.
The ATC cast couldn't be better. As Troy, David Alan Anderson is giving a fearless, fearsome, and powerful portrayal, with as many nuances as the character has. Troy is a man with a steady job who is doing what he needs to do to take care of his family. But he is also a womanizer and a former criminal, imprisoned for stealing, yet also deeply in love with his wife. Anderson is exceptional in making us see this man, flaws and alland he has many flaws. Kim Staunton's Rose is steadfast and warm. Rose says that Troy is "a man that can fill all them empty spaces" in her heart, but he ends up filling up so much that Rose has no room left for herself. In act two, when Troy confesses something to Rose, Staunton's fierceness comes out in full force, instilling Rose with a determination to not hold back any longer. Staunton's force of emotion at that moment rivals her husband's. It is a breathtaking moment and Staunton's is superb portrayal of a woman with a fierce sense of herself and sheer will and determination.
Troy's two sons are just looking for acknowledgement from their father, though it rarely comes. James T. Alfred is Lyons, Troy's eldest son from his first marriage, and Edgar Sanchez is Cory. Both have a natural style in their line delivery and in ensuring that the changes their characters go through as the events of the play unfold are realistic. Sanchez does well in showing Cory's animosity and anger and, ultimately, forgiveness. Terry Bellamy is exceptional as Troy's brother Gabriel, who suffered a brain injury in World War II and actually believes that he's the Angel Gabriel. Gabriel is the heart of the play and Bellamy's portrayal is heartbreaking, with his final scene a moment of pure beauty. Marcus Naylor instills Bono with a sheer sense of reason while Simeeyah Grace Baker is adorable as Raynell, a character who is a catalyst for forgiveness.
Director Lou Bellamy does an exceptional job in ensuring the pressures and problems that the characters face are portrayed realistically. His touch is light and sensitive when needed yet forceful and strong as well. He doesn't rush the play, instead allowing the drama to unfold realistically to reveal the tender and painful details that end up changing the course of the lives of every character. The creative elements are extraordinary, with Vicki Smith's set design realistically portraying the back porch and entire two-story facade of Troy and Rose's house. Smith's design includes a telephone pole in the background, electric wires and telephone lines stretched across the upper part of the stage, plus weathered siding and brick on the homes. Add in Don Darnutzer's lighting, which subtly and beautifully shifts in color and tone throughout the play, and Matthew J. LeFebvre's costumes, which are period appropriate with a range of vibrant colors and patterns, and the end result echoes the changing moods and textures of the play.
With an anti-hero at its center, the beauty of Fences, and this production, is that it never attempts to make you truly like the character of Troy. Yet, even though the main character is ultimately unlikable, Wilson's play shows how compassion, acceptance, forgiveness, the realization of lost hopes and dreams, and the loving bond of family can ultimately become a celebration of life. This production of this American classic is captivating, engaging and first rate.
Fences runs through February 28th, 2016, at Arizona Theatre Company, the Herberger Theater Center, 222 E. Monroe Street in Phoenix. Tickets can be purchased at www.arizonatheatre.org or by calling (602) 256 6995.
Written by August Wilson
*Members of Actors' Equity Association