Gloucester Stage presents August Wilson’s powerful ‘Fences’

27Aug14

Fences can be built and they can be torn down. They can keep people out, or they can keep them in.

fences5In August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize winning play, “Fences,” currently at the Gloucester Stage Company, Troy (played by Daver Morrison) is a former Negro League baseball star, gifted with the same power to hit the ball over the fences as his white counterparts in the Major Leagues.

But because of the race barrier, Troy never got a chance to play in the big leagues. Instead, we find 53 year-old Troy in 1957 eking out a meager existence with his wife Rose (Jaqui Parker) and teenage son Cory (Jared Michael Brown) in a run-down house on the edges of Pittsburgh.

It seems that Troy’s chances of escaping poverty through a baseball career may have also been damaged by a 15-year jail term he served for accidentally killing a man he was trying to rob. By the time he emerged from behind the prison’s fences he had another strike against his baseball prospects: his age.

Arriving home from work on a Friday with fellow city trash collector Jim Bono (Gregory Marlow), the pals share their weekly payday pint out in front of the house and discuss how Troy has just stood up to the city over fences2their policy of whites only driving the rubbish trucks while the blacks must do the heavy lifting of the trash barrels.

Troy’s 34 year-old musician son Lyons (Warren Jackson) from a previous relationship stops by to borrow $10, which Troy refuses but Rose eventually gives him after Troy dutifully hands over his weekly pay. Lyons wants his father to come see him play, but Troy has little interest and wants Lyons to focus on getting a regular job.

Troy’s brother Gabriel (Jermel Nakia) also drops by. He was brain damaged by a war injury and had until recently roomed with Troy and Rose, before getting his own apartment. Troy had used some of Gabe’s government disability money to purchase his house in exchange for taking care of his fences3brother. He now resents Gabe for moving out and paying room and board to someone else.

Nakia turns in a stellar physical performance as Gabriel, whose damaged brain causes him to behave erratically and to believe that he assists St. Peter with admitting souls through heaven’s Pearly Gates.

We also learn that Troy’s younger son, Cory, is being scouted for a college football scholarship. But Troy wants Cory to have no part of that, convinced that white America will also deny his son the athletic success it had denied him.

Rose and Cory try to tell Troy that America is changing, that blacks like Jackie Robinson and Jim Brown are now playing professional baseball and football alongside white players. But Troy can’t bring himself to allow Cory to take that risk and possibly succeed where he didn’t.

fences1Instead of playing football after school Troy wants Cory to keep working at the A&P. He also wants Cory to help him finish the fence he’s building in front of the house.

Troy is a domineering figure, who is at the same time charismatic and intimidating. While Rose does stand up to him, she also endures the dual indignity of being a black woman in a man’s world. She has allowed her own life to be absorbed into his, even suffering the ultimate betrayal.

Director Eric Engel deserves kudos not only for selecting “Fences” to close GSC’s season, but for casting seemingly perfect actors for each of these parts. Like a maestro conducting an orchestra, Engel has created a cohesive whole out of a complex work that takes on themes of racism, sexism, love, betrayal and, ultimately, forgiveness.

In the end, it seems, the only fences that matter are the ones we mend.

“Fences” runs through September 7 at Gloucester Stage Company, 267 East Main St., Gloucester, MA. Performances are Wednesday through Saturday at 8 p.m. Saturday matinees are at 3 p.m. and Sunday performances are at 4 p.m. Purchase tickets online or phone 978-281-4433.

[FENCES, by August Wilson. Directed by Eric Engel. Set design, J. Michael Griggs. Costume Design, Holly Trainer. Props Master, Joe Stallone. Lighting Designer, Russ Swift. Fight Choreographer, Angie Jepson. Stage Manager, Marsha Smith. Starring Daver Morrison, Jacqui Parker, Warren Jackson, Gregory Marlow, Jermel Nakia, Jared Michael Brown and Bezawit Strong.]

[This review also appeared in the Wakefield Daily Item.]

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