When the roll of curmudgeonly characters that audiences love to hate is called Up Yonder, ex-convict and former Negro League baseball star Troy Maxson’s name will be somewhere near the top. PlayMakers Repertory Company headliner Charlie Robinson tackles this thorny role with brio in the current PRC presentation of August Wilson’s 1987 Tony Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Fences. Robinson, who is probably most familiar to Triangle theatergoers as Macintosh “Mac” Robinson on the long-running NBC television series “Night Court,” captures every tic and twitch of Troy’s prickly personality — the sunny smiles and the sulfurous glares — in a bravura performance that will surely catapult this PRC powerful production onto many Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill 2010 top-10 lists.
An amiable Good-Time Charlie when sober and a bellicose and downright mean bully and shameless womanizer when drunk, Troy Maxson nurses a variety of grudges — some righteous, some not; but all eating him up inside, bite by bite — from his hard-scrabble days growing up in the Jim Crow South, from his time spent behind bars, from his pre-Jackie Robinson baseball-playing days, and from his current job as a garbage man, riding the back of the truck for the City of Pittsburgh. In the latter instance, he fills an anti-discrimination lawsuit to become a garbage-truck driver, even though he has no driver’s license.
Not even the love of a good woman, his devoted wife Rose (Kathryn Hunter-Williams), can save Troy as he wrestles with his personal demons. Rose and Troy’s athletically gifted teenaged son, Corey (Yaegel Welch), become punching bags as Troy’s abuse escalates from verbal to physical battery.
Hunter-Williams and Welch give stellar performances in gritty supporting roles in Fences; and so does Thomasi McDonald, who plays Troy’s long-time friend and running buddy Bono. Ray Anthony Thomas poignantly reveals the pathos behind the playfulness of Troy’s mentally challenged brother Gabriel, a badly wounded World War II veteran; and Erik LaRay Harvey adds a memorable cameo as Troy’s eldest son, Lyons, a ne’er-do-well jazz musician who only shows up — like a bad penny — when his pockets are empty. Tania Smith, who plays Troy’s daughter Raynell by his never-seen mistress Alberta, also has a small but important role.
Director Seret Scott briskly but soulfully stages this nearly three-hour domestic drama, set in the Hill District of Pittsburgh in the 1950s, so that the audience’s visit with the Maxson family and friends seems like a much briefer but still highly eventful interlude. Scenic designer Jan Chambers deserves kudos for the splendidly realistic set of the backyard of the Maxson home, complete with overhanging branches, as well the titular fence that grows scene-by-scene until it eventually encloses the entire yard; and lighting designer Peter West helps keep the show’s dramatic focus right where it should be.
The 1950s fashions recreated by costume designer Helen Huang and the soundscape devised by sound designer/engineer Ryan Gastelum also add to the production’s authenticity and help make Fences a must-see drama for Triangle theater aficionados. Don’t miss it.
SECOND OPINION: Nov. 3rd Durham, NC Independent Weekly review by Byron Woods (who awarded the show 4 of 5 stars): http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/another-memorable-fences-courtesy-of-playmakers/Content?oid=1770913; Nov. 2nd Raleigh, NC Classical Voice of North Carolina reviews by Jeffrey Rossman and Julie-Kate Cooper: http://cvnc.org/reviews/2010/102010/PRC2a.html and http://cvnc.org/reviews/2010/102010/PRC2b.html, respectively; Nov. 2nd Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/2010/11/02/774419/playmakers-fences-stands-out.html and Oct. 26th preview by Katelyn Ferral: http://www.newsobserver.com/2010/10/26/760298/fences-a-timeless-drama-for-all.html; Oct. 31st Chapel Hill, NC Daily Tar Heel review by Colin Warren-Hicks: http://www.dailytarheel.com/index.php/article/2010/10/playmakers_fences_is_poignant_memorable and Oct. 27th preview by Julie Cooper: http://www.dailytarheel.com/index.php/article/2010/10/playmakers_debuts_wilsons_fences_today; and Oct. 27th Durham, NC Herald-Sun preview by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: http://www.heraldsun.com/view/full_story/10080028/article-A-new-perspective-on-Wilson-s–Fences-?instance=main_article (Note: You must register first to read this article). (To read Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s online version of the Oct. 21st Triangle Theater Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2010/10/fences-by-august-wilson-is-next-at-bat-in-playmakers-35th-anniversary-season/.)
PlayMakers Repertory Company presents FENCES at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 4 and 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: 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 2: On Nov. 7th, there will be a FREE post-performance discussion with representatives of the show’s creative team, including designers, production staff, and/or actors.
NOTE 3: 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 4: There will be a 10:30 a.m. Student Matinee Performance on Nov. 10th (for details, see http://www.playmakersrep.org/tickets/studentmatinee.aspx).
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).
Charlie Robinson: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0732455/ (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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To read all of Robert W. McDowell’s Triangle Theater Review previews and reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/robert-w-mcdowell/.