“Fences” – Black Theatre Troupe

This review aired on KBAQ October 7, 2010


Black Theatre Troupe, Playhouse on the Park
Phoenix. AZ

As you enter the Playhouse on the Park for Black Theatre Troupe’s fine production of August Wilson’s Pulitzer-Prize winning play “Fences,” you see Lillie Richardson sitting on the porch of the Maxon’s family home working on dinner vegetables. In a few minutes of watching this superb actor, you learn a lot about her Rose, Troy’s wife of 18 years.

She’s quiet, she’s devoted, she’s detail oriented, she cares about her family’s well being, and she’s a hard worker. For much of the play’s first act, Rose defers to her frustrated husband. She’s always calmly there for him and she supports him without question. As the play progresses, surprise revelations challenge Rose. Richardson transforms into a powerful woman in one of the finest scenes I’ve ever witnessed on a local stage. Richardson’s Rose makes a strong Black Theatre Troupe production glisten with a sublime professionalism.

“Fences” is the second of Wilson’s decade-by-decade series about the 20th century black American experience. “Fences” opens in 1957 focusing on Troy, a 53-year-old garbage man. In his younger days, Troy had a promising baseball career in the black leagues but has grown hateful and fearful because he can’t share in the white world’s successes. He demands loyalty from his family and ruins his son, Corey’s, football scholarship.

He expects Rose be the silent wife but always be there for him. When a dalliance results in a baby, his revelation causes Rose’s explosion. When the baby’s mother dies in childbirth, Troy expects Rose will raise his daughter. Rose does but she’s Troy’s wife in name only. Wilson’s stunning character explorations exposes the injustices perpetuated on black people and it also paints a vibrant picture of black family life.

The Black Theatre Troupe production is one of their finest starting with David J. Hemphill’s meticulous staging that lets the play’s riches, including its language, shine. The cast, while not at Richardson’s exemplary acting level, still create convincing characters that face unbelievable challenges to just survive. Ken Love provides a centered Troy although Love rushes his dialogue at such a fast clip that his words aren’t always understandable. Anton Floyd gives a commanding Corey, the youngest son, who defers to Troy but has the intelligence to soar past his father. Walter Belcher tackles Troy’s war-damaged brother convincingly, while Mike Traylor’s Jim, Troy’s relaxed and better adjusted work friend, Jim, provides support. Jared Stewart plays Troy’s older son, Lyons, with confidence and poise.

The eloquent “Fences” is a telling tale of how unappreciated blacks have been in American culture. “Fences” continues through October 10. For tickets, call the Phoenix Theatre box office at 602-254-2151 or order tickets online at www.phoenixtheatre.com or www.blacktheatretroupe.org.

Grade: A