Next at bat in PlayMakers Repertory Company’s 35th anniversary season is Fences, an award-winning play by African-American playwright August Wilson (1945-2005), which will preview on Oct. 27-29, officially opens on Oct. 30th, and continues its three-week run on Oct. 31st and Nov. 2-7 and 9-14 in the Paul Green Theatre in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Center for Dramatic Art.
Fences focuses on the travails of fictional former Negro League baseball star and ex-convict Troy Maxson (played at PRC by Charlie Robinson, who is probably best known as Macintosh “Mac” Robinson on the NBC television series “Night Court” from 1985 until 1992). Part of Wilson’s decade-by-decade 10-play Pittsburgh Cycle, all set in the Hill District of that city, Fences won the 1987 Tony Award® for Best Play and 1987 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, plus the 1987 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding New Play.
“I saw the original [Broadway production] in the … 1980s,” recalls PlayMakers guest director Seret Scott, “and was moved by the complexity and dynamics of the black family relationships of the 1950s period. I [have] directed Fences at New Mexico Rep, Capital Repertory Theatre (Albany, NY), and South Coast Repertory (Costa Mesa, CA).” (Note: PRC star Charlie Robinson played Troy Maxson in the Costa Mesa production, and won the LA Stage Alliance’s Ovation Award for Best Lead Actor in a Play for his performance.)
A veteran interpreter of playwright August Wilson’s work, director Seret Scott adds, “During the [1950s] time period of Fences, the choices that certain people had to make were limited and may have been socially unacceptable. People like Troy did what they had to do to feed their children and support a family, even to the point that led Troy into life as a robber and a 15-year prison sentence as a young man.”
Fences made its Broadway debut, directed by Lloyd Richards, on March 26, 1987 at the 46th Street Theatre, where it played for 525 performances before closing on June 26, 1988. That production starred James Earl Jones as Troy Maxson. In addition to the Tony for Best Play and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Fences won the 1987 Tony Awards for Best Direction (Lloyd Richards), Best Actor in a Play (James Earl Jones), and Best Actress in a Play (Mary Alice, who played Troy Maxson’s long-suffering wife, Rose).
Director Seret Scott admits, “I love working on August Wilson’s plays. His characters are rich, strong, and often deeply flawed.”
She adds, “The story [of Fences] is a window into the home life of Troy Maxson (Charlie Robinson) and his family in the late 1950s. Troy, a powerful ex-convict and baseball player who never got the chance to play in the major leagues, makes his money working on the back of a garbage truck with his best friend Bono (Thomasi McDonald). He struggles to build a fence around what he has gained in life and to raise and protect his son Corey (Yaegel Welch) by forcing him to face the values and responsibilities he believes in.
“As times change,” Scott explains, “life continues to throw Troy curve balls, and his family life with his wife, Rose (Kathryn Hunter Williams), begins to unravel in ways that he can no longer control.”
The PRC cast for Fences also includes Ray Anthony Thomas as Troy’s mentally challenged brother Gabriel, a badly wounded World War II veteran whose disability checks Troy appropriates to build his house; Erik LaRay Harvey as Troy’s eldest son, Lyons, from a previous relationship; and Tania Smith as Troy’s daughter Raynell by his never-seen mistress Alberta.
In addition to director Seret Scott, the PlayMakers Repertory Company creative team for Fences includes PRC producing artistic director Joseph Haj, assistant director Drew Perrin, production manager Michael Rolleri, scenic designer Jan Chambers, lighting designer Peter West, costume designer Helen Huang, sound designer/engineer Ryan Gastelum, dramaturg Ashley Lucas, and stage manager Charles K. Bayang.
Seret Scott says, “The single set is the back porch of the Maxson household in the Hill District of Pittsburgh. It is realistic and sturdy…. The Paul Green Theatre deck extends quite a distance into the audience, which makes the construction of the fence an unusual challenge. Sightlines become an important consideration.”
Scott adds, “The lighting is naturalistic and heightens the feeling of the drama, supports the emotional moments…. The costumes are 1950s [fashions], basic and functional. They give a good sense of the period.”
SECOND OPINION: Oct. 26th Raleigh, NC News & Observer preview by Katelyn Ferral: http://www.newsobserver.com/2010/10/26/760298/fences-a-timeless-drama-for-all.html.
PlayMakers Repertory Company presents FENCES at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 27-29 Previews, 7:30 p.m. Oct. 30 Opening Night, 2 p.m. Oct. 31, 7:30 p.m. Nov. 2-5, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Nov. 6, 2 p.m. Nov. 7, 7:30 p.m. Nov. 9-13, and 2 p.m. Nov. 14 in the Paul Green Theatre in the Center for Dramatic Art, 120 Country Club Rd., at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, NC 27514.
TICKETS: $10-$35, except $45 Opening Night show and reception of Oct. 30th.
BOX OFFICE: 919/962-PLAY or http://www.playmakersrep.org/tickets/.
GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919/843-2311, firstname.lastname@example.org, or http://www.playmakersrep.org/tickets/groupsales.aspx.
SCRIPT: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
PRC BLOG: http://playmakersrep.blogspot.com/.
NOTE 1: On Nov. 3rd and 7th, there will be FREE post-performance discussions with representatives of the show’s creative team, including designers, production staff, and/or actors.
NOTE 2: There will be 10:30 a.m. Student Matinee Performances on Nov. 4th and 10th (for details, see http://www.playmakersrep.org/tickets/studentmatinee.aspx).
NOTE 3: The Prologue Series, created by PlayMakers and the Chapel Hill Library, will present a pre-show conversation with a member of the PlayMakers creative team at the library at 12 noon on Nov. 5th.
NOTE 4: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh (http://www.artsaccessinc.org/) will audio describe the 7:30 p.m. Nov. 9th performance, which will also be sign-language interpreted.
NOTE 5: The Lucy Daniels Foundation (http://www.ldf.org/home/) and the North Carolina Psychoanalytic Society (http://www.ncpsasoc.org/) will sponsor “Mindplay: A 50-minute Hour,” a FREE psychoanalytic discussion led by Roni Cohen, PhD, after the 7:30 p.m. Nov. 13th and 2 p.m. Nov. 14th performances.
The Play: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fences_(play) (Wikipedia) and http://www.ibdb.com/show.php?ID=3507 (Internet Broadway Database).
The Playwright: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/August_Wilson (Wikipedia), http://www.augustwilson.net/ (AugustWilson.net, maintained by Dr. Mike Downing), http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=4362 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0933025/ (Internet Movie Database).
Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.
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