Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Fences @ PCS

Despite a couple of strong performances in supporting roles and an attractive, compelling set, this production of August Wilson's play FENCES didn't do it for me. I don't like the play itself so much, and much prefer Wilson's MA RAINEY'S BLACK BOTTOM, which packs a punch. The fate of Troy Maxson and his family doesn't land on me. It seems more unfortunate than tragic. Troy Maxson is squeezed into a terribly small box by the limits set by white America, lack of education and having spent 15 years in jail prior to the start of the play, but I feel no sense of inevitability when the play seems to tell us that these conditions lead him to make terrible decisions that hurt his son and wife. I can certainly grasp Troy's fears for--and of--his son. But, I don't fully grasp his sexual betrayal of Rose, his wife. It doesn't seem justified by action, text, or backstory. It makes Troy merely pathetic, robbing him of nobility. At least, it does for me. He seems even weaker than Willie Loman, despite his physical strength.

The most compelling performance of the evening was Bono, played by Don Mayo, who was quiet and specific. Gabriel is hard to get wrong, so Ray Anthony Thomas was enjoyable in the part. Other performances seemed to wash out into swashing generalities. Troy Maxson has a lot to say--it's a mammoth part--and I found myself tiring of him more than once. One moment that seemed rushed was Troy's revelation to Rose of his betrayal. It didn't seem to land on her.

p.s. I find myself hoping that actors DON'T read their reviews. I don't think I'm going to read mine, any more, at least till the end of the run.


Signore Direttore said...

I haven't seen this production, but I am a fan of the play. As you noted, the part of Troy Maxson is mammoth and it's possible the actor didn't bring the necessary layers to it.
However, I think you're missing a vital point in your comparison of Maxson to Loman, a point that may limit your overall appreciation of Fences. WIllie Loman's failure is a result of delusion. He is weak, but could have succeeded had he relied less on personality and more on effort. His lack of success had everything to do with his own failings. Troy Maxson was strong and failed because of racism and his reactions to it. In spite of his failings, he had real triumphs both in the past and present. Didn't he successfully challenge the city about blacks driving the garbage trucks?
Did you stop and think that maybe you're supposed to grow tired of Troy Maxson, that perhaps Troy Maxson is sick of himself? Weary of being powerless? That his affair with Alberta is an act of taking some power, however pathetic and desperate? T
Afterall the play is called Fences, not Transcending Self and Institutionalized Racism. Certainly Troy is not a sympathetic character. Rather, this play demands a lot of empathy, and I can't help but think Wilson wasn't putting us on the spot to see how we might handle the opportunity.


David said...

Yah, I hear you. I've been letting the show sit with me, and I think my real difficulty is with the performance, which I saw on a Tuesday night, of a production that is in the middle of a two or three city run. Troy is such a huge role. I think I saw the actor simply sag a bit under the weight of it, just enough to obscure my powers of empathy....