Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Review of "Fences" - Playhouse on Park

For August Wilson’s Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winning drama, Fences, to work, the two lead characters need to be dynamic performers.  In the Playhouse on Park staging, running through November 20, the actor Jamil A.C. Mangan, as the volatile, resentful Troy Maxson and Yvette Monette Clark as his loyal, abiding wife, are superb.  There are some aspects of the play that undermine the show, primarily the portrayal of the small, but pivotal role of the youngest son, Cory.  Overall, however, if you have not attended one of the playwright’s ten-part "Pittsburgh Cycle" plays, this production is worth seeing.

August Wilson has crafted a very accessible, in some ways, straightforward story that examines race relations and racial discrimination.  It is also a somber meditation on lost dreams and hopes. The playwright, while incorporating extended orations, relies more on indirect threadlines to bring home his points on injustice, desperation and aspirations curtailed.

The plot revolves around Troy Maxson, a Pittsburgh garbage hauler.  He and his best friend Jim Bono (Eric Carter) have the same routine day in and day out.  He is frustrated at work because the Black employees do the heavy lifting while the White workers get to drive the trucks.  Home life is also routine - returning each night to his loving, supportive wife Rose - but feeling trapped by a life going nowhere and facing a house in need of constant repair. 

His two sons provide little help.  Lyons (Jerry Hamilton), married and a struggling musician, lives out of the home, but always seems to show up on Troy’s payday.  Cory (Khalfani Louis) a standout high school football player, is more concerned with impressing a college recruiter than his responsibilities at home.  In addition, there is Troy’s impaired brother Gabriel (Daniel Danielson), severely wounded in WWII, who roams the city seeing “hellhounds.”

Underlying Troy’s life is his intense resentment about not making it as a major league baseballer.  A star in the Negro League, by the time baseball integrated, he was past his prime, even though he believes he can still play.  His bitterness and agitation lead to family upheaval and turmoil that forever changes the fortunes and lives of each character.

Troy Maxson is a complex individual and the actor Jamil A.C. Mangan gives a soulful performance full of cynicism, angst, and heartache.  We all can relate, to some degree, to his reflections of “What If?”  Yvette Monette Clark’s portrayal of Rose is more measured.  The Ying to her husband’s Yang.  The actress is stoic and resolute, but shows her range when, at the end of Act I, she erupts with outrage and suffering.

A few of the featured players give highly satisfactory performances.  Their roles add more depth to the storyline in subtle, less overt ways.  Among them are Eric Carter as Jim Bono, Troy’s longtime friend and Daniel Danielson as Gabriel, Troy’s psychologically damaged brother.  The night I saw the production, the actor slated to portray Lyons, the eldest son, suddenly called out ill.  Jerry Hamilton, went into the role with little rehearsal, script in hand.  Under the circumstances, he gave a fine portrayal.  Khalfani Louis is disappointing in the small, but important, role as the young son Cory.  He brings too little shading or nuance to the performance.

Director Kenney M. Green smartly keeps the character of Troy Maxson center stage with the other cast members orbiting his sizable sphere.  There is a lot of speechifying, in Fences, but the Director deftly guides his cast, bringing passion, anguish and heartbreak to their monologues.  Working with Scenic Designer Baron E. Pugh, he convincingly creates the back of what appears to be a dwelling in a gritty neighborhood.

Fences, playing through November 20 at Playhouse on Park in West Hartford.  Click here for dates and ticket information.

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