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Writing for Us
A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Set in 1957, it's the story of Troy Maxson, born too soon to be the great baseball star his gifts warranted. Troy survived a brutal childhood and a 15-year prison term to go to work every day as a garbage man. The fence he's building around the house he bought with his brother Gabe's Vietnam disability settlement is a make-work job and a prison to keep his teen-age son Cory both safe and down. "You're afraid I was gonna be better than you," rages Cory when Troy sabotages his chances at a college athletic scholarship.
Troy has a scornful but friendly relationship with his older son, the feckless musician Lyons, and a deep bond with his best friend and co-worker, Bono. But the foundation and light of his life for 18 years has been his wife, Rose -- until the day when he has to confess his obsession with another woman and its tragic consequences. Like Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman, Troy Maxson is one of the most recognizable anti-heroes of the American stage. He's monstrous, honorable, and a huge charismatic presence in the life of his family. We hate him every time he makes Cory call him "sir."
Although younger than the 53-year-old Troy, Fishburne has the power and gravitas to carry the part and a lovely sense of fun, particularly in his playful love scenes with Bassett. She projects sparkle, warmth and capability as a woman who makes her home her vocation. Her anguished monologue on learning of Troy's infidelity is an aria, doing full justice to Wilson's poetry. It is climaxed with a wail and violent gesture rejecting Cory's attempt to comfort her at the end of it.
The supporting cast is impeccable. Bryan Clark's Cory is still a boy who stalks into the house like a petulant child and lives in bewilderment and rage at his father's cold thwarting. Troy tries to explain his attitude that Cory is only a responsibility when he tells his son "Don't you try and go through life worrying about if somebody like you or not. You best be making sure they doing right by you."
Bono is a mediocre decent man who illuminates by contrast Maxson's towering gifts and flaws and Wendell Pierce does this subtly and superbly, holding his own on stage with Fishburne. As Gabriel, Orlando Jones is a gentle madman whose anguish illuminates his delusions. Kadeem Hardison plays Lyons with cool affection and little Victoria Matthews blooms as the child Raynell.
The scenic design by Gary L. Wissman has the warmth of a tree-lined street and the mellow tones of an old neighborhood. Opening night's curtain call included a tribute by Laurence Fishburne and the cast to the three men who brought Fences to the stage, all of whom died within the past year: August Wilson, producer Ben Moredcai and original director Lloyd Richards. An accolade is also due to director Sheldon Epps, whose intimacy with the material reinforces the rhythm and humanity in Wilson's writing and gives it an energy and excitement the playwright would have loved.
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