The late August Wilson won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for Fences. The play also pulled in a Drama Desk Award, New York Drama Critics Circle Award and, for lagniappe, garnered James Earl Jones a Tony. That's quite a haul of laurels!
At the Anthony Bean Community Theater, you can catch up on this somewhat harrowing drama performed by a topnotch local cast.
The central character in Fences is a garbage man in his late fifties named Troy (Wilbert Williams Jr.). Troy has kicked up a fuss on his job, because all the truck drivers are white and trash-dumpers are black. Troy shares a pint of gin with his friend Bono (Harold Evans), as they ponder the likely bleak outcome of Troy's protest. Bono also needles Troy about a woman he's been flirting with. We meet Rose (Gwendolyn Foxworthe), Troy's wife, who tries to keep the peace with her truculent, domineering husband. Yet, we sense a real connection in the marriage. In strolls Lyons (Kenneth Brown Jr.), Troy's grown son. Lyons is a musician. He's just happened by on payday in order to hit up the old man for a ten spot.
Each one of these themes (the job protest, the shaky marriage, the other woman, the father/son battle) explodes later. And that's not the whole ball of wax. There's Troy's demented brother, Gabriel (Anthony Bean), a wounded war vet who wanders around, chatting to Saint Peter and fuming at hell hounds. And then we have Cory (Darryl Lutcher), Troy's younger son. Cory is being recruited by a college football team. He'll get an education and escape the small, impoverished world of his family. He will not be fenced in by the fence that Troy is building around the backyard of his house.
His house. His. He bludgeons both sons with this proprietorship -- with the sacrifices he makes to provide for them. In the case of Cory, the father's bitterness runs especially deep, for Troy himself was a star in the negro baseball league. He blames racial prejudice for keeping him out of the major leagues. Now, his son is getting the red carpet treatment!
Well, that incomplete prcis gives you some idea of the people in Fences, of their world and of their conflicts. It would be unfair to tell you how it all plays out. Suffice it to say, under Bean's direction, the cast takes you on a roller coaster of emotions and heartbreaks -- with one small, but touching glimmer of hope. Innocence (the absolute innocence of a newborn baby) is not trampled on -- even though the baby's very existence is a reminder of betrayal and pain.
Fences is an absorbing and demanding play. It's often gripping, occasionally funny. The performances are heartfelt (though sometimes a bit loud) -- and the show does run two and half hours. But director Bean has given us a chance to see this recent, much-acclaimed script in an accomplished staging.
Meanwhile, racial prejudice gets a comic drubbing over at Le Chat Noir, where Running With Scissors takes on the movies in their latest romp L'imitation Of Life. This spoof of the 1959 movie that starred Lana Turner boasts some of the usual cross-gender suspects like Brian Peterson and -- in the lead role of luscious Lana herself -- Ricky Graham. But there is at least one new alleged perpetrator in the drag-land gang, Donald Lewis, who turns up as Annie Johnson, the long-suffering African-American mother of a daughter (Dorian Rush) who wants to pass for white.
On the night I saw the show, a packed house had themselves a wing ding of a time with this surreal soap opera. Under the direction of Richard Read and Flynn De Marco, the talented cast danced an assured cakewalk through the tinsel town saga -- where suffering and stereotypes are reflected in the distorted fun house mirrors of camp satire.
I have to say I missed some of the capricious, offbeat sallies that are usually one of the joys of a Scissors' show. Even the most adroitly delivered double-entendre "dick" jokes start to pale as a steady diet. And some elements of the mix confused me -- like the film clip of Mahalia Jackson singing her heart out.
But the fun, though sometimes a bit grotesque, is certainly infectious and the leads perform with brio. Jack Long, Rod Lemaire, Brad Caldwell and Liz Zibilich ably fill out the cast. The protean Graham (in collaboration with Running With Scissors) adapted the play from an original script by Bruce McNally.
- Brothers Gabriel (Anthony Bean) and Troy (Wilbert Williams) try to cope with a segregated world in August Wilson's Fences.