Wineke: August Wilson’s ‘Fences’ is a major APT achievement
SPRING GREEN, Wis. — August Wilson’s “Fences” marks a number of firsts for the play and for American Players Theatre.
The play, first produced in the 1980s, tells the story of an African American family living in the 1950s in Pittsburgh. It is basically the story of Troy Maxon, a garbage collector who once played in the Negro Baseball League, of his wife, Rose, a friend, Jim Bone, and children Lyons, Gabriel, Cory and Raynell.
The production, which runs through Sept. 22, marks the first time the play, set in a Pittsburgh backyard, has been produced outdoors. It marks the first time an APT production has featured an all African-American cast in a play about an African American family. It also is the first time APT has produced an August Wilson play.
All of which may be moderately interesting and basically irrelevant. What is relevant is that “Fences” is a stunning work of art that will enthrall not only those who appreciate the “classical theater” heritage of APT but, also, anyone who may never have seen a live play in his life.
That’s due in part to Wilson’s dialogue and in part to the way the actors, David Alan Anderson (Troy), Bryant Louis Bentley (Jim Bone), Karen Aldridge (Rose) and Jamal James, Gavin Lawrence, Yao Dogbe and Taressa Marie Hennes bring those words to life.
Troy is an angry man. He was raised in a rough home. He believes he was cheated out of a chance as a Major League baseball Player. As the play begins, it appears that he may be fired because he complained to the city about the fact that refuse trucks had all white drivers and all black loaders.
And, yet, he’s also provided a home for his wife and sons, of whom he is proud yet to whom he shows little affection.
It is a play about the lives and experiences of a black family. The dialogue is filled with phrases that can make the predominantly white, middle-class APT audience squirm a bit.
And, yet, if you exchange the insults exchanged by Troy and his friends with insults exchanged by my own father and his friends, and if you exchange the gin bottle shared by Troy and Jim Bone with the bottles of Schlitz my dad and his friends downed after work, this play could pretty much have been set in my childhood yard.
Wilson doesn’t homogenize his experience to make it palatable to the audience, but he does arrange a story to invite the audience in as participants rather than spectators.
It’s really worth your time to experience this play if you have the chance.
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