Several decades of August Wilson’s monumental Pittsburgh Cycle are on Washington stages this season. A strong production of “Jitney” is currently running at Arena Stage, where “Seven Guitars” will appear next spring. Joining them is Ford’s Theatre’s powerful production of “Fences.”
The 1957-set play is arguably the best-known of the 10 dramas, each taking place in a different decade of the last century, due to the Academy Award-winning 2016 screen adaptation. “Fences” was the third play in the Cycle to hit the stage, but it provides an excellent entry point for those new to Wilson’s work.
...the performances of the excellent cast…
“Fences” is an actors’ piece, and director Timothy Douglas has selected a superlative cast. Erika Rose, a veteran of area theatres including the Shakespeare Theatre Company and Woolly Mammoth, makes her Ford’s debut as dutiful but stifled Rose Maxson. KenYatta Rogers and Cory Maxson effectively portray two very different sorts of young, ambitious dreamers butting up against the confines of the world. Jefferson A. Russell is searing as Gabriel Maxson, an earthbound seraph caught between this realm and the next since a brain injury at war.
These family members are all trapped in the gale winds of Troy Maxson, the raging hurricane of a man at the core of “Fences.” Ford’s mainstay Craig Wallace turns in a performance that would be hard to improve upon as the former Negro League hitter and ex-convict. Troy is proud of the home and life he has built as he passes through late middle age, but carrying some resentment that bigotry and bad timing cost him a chance at professional baseball glory.
This is a play of conversation, not action, and its many dialogues take place on an effectively simple dirt yard set designed by Lauren Halpern. A sepia-toned photograph of seemingly abandoned construction fills the back of the stage, adding to the earth-tone sparseness of the set as a whole. Lighting designer Andrew Cissna makes good use of shadows to evoke the ghosts of the Mixsons’ lives and to signify the darkness enveloping Troy.
As the show proceeds, Troy’s bitterness overtakes whatever self-satisfaction he has found. At the play’s outset, Troy seems at worst an amiable crank, but he soon reveals his wounds and fury to run deep.
At three hours, “Fences” is a long time to watch a man tear down his own life and the lives of those he claims to love the most. But the performances of the excellent cast make it worthwhile.
Running Time: Three hours with one intermission.
“Fences” runs through October 27, 2019, at Ford’s Theatre, 511 10th Street NW in Washington. Click here for tickets and information.