Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Boston

Regional Reviews by Matthew Small

August Wilson's Fences
Huntington Theatre Company

Also see Matthew's review of Altar Boyz

Warner Miller and John Beasley
There are only two minor distinctions between seeing a fantastic show in one of New York's Broadway houses and experiencing Fences at Huntington Theatre Company this fall. At the Boston University Theatre, the seats are roomier and the ticket prices are more affordable.

From an elite class of interpreters handpicked by playwright August Wilson, director Kenny Leon delivers a rich, first-class production of this Tony Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winning play. Bravo to Artistic Director Peter DuBois and Managing Director Michael Maso for producing a fine revival of this 1987 installment from the 10-play Pittsburgh Cycle Wilson wrote to explore the African-American experience in the 20th century.

Perhaps due to the sheer volume of the Pittsburgh Cycle, but without any truly rational explanation, I have always felt too intimidated to see any of Wilson's plays—my mistake. A very accessible play, Fences provides a wonderful entree for anyone who may have shared my fear. Wilson's writing is real and human. The words flowing from the mouths of characters seem based in a world that many families experienced at the time in 1957, and one that we sometimes experience today.

Fences takes us deep within a family culture with distinct difference of experience between two generations living in and around the Maxson house in Pittsburgh. Troy Maxson struggles to break through the glass ceiling for a promotion from trash collector to garbage truck driver. His son Cory dreams of playing college football, but Troy doesn't imagine much has changed since his own time in the Negro Baseball league as a young man. It's fascinating that Troy never allows Cory to pursue the own hopes and dreams that Troy once held.

It must be tough for Troy to imagine that the world may be improving, when his obligations to his family become increasingly complicated. Along with helping to raise his teenaged son, Troy is weighed down by financial responsibilities for his wife Rose, an intellectually disabled brother Gabriel and his 35-year-old musician son Lyons, unable (or unwilling) to pull his life together in his father's eyes.

The entire cast is superb. John Beasley's Troy is clearly fed up with missed opportunities and what he sees as his sons' head-in-the-clouds worldview. Warner Miller forgoes the usual angst of teenage roles as Cory earnestly questions his father's motives for putting a stop to college plans in favor of a more pragmatic path. Troy's devoted friend Bono (Eugene Lee) musters up the pivotal courage to confront Troy's life-altering choices that could tear his family apart.

Bill Nunn, whose performance I enjoyed in Leon's revival of A Raisin in the Sun on Broadway, is a delight in the role of Gabriel. A wounded World War II veteran with significant cognitive challenges, Nunn's innocent portrayal provides strong emotional reminders of the oft-ignored impact of war.

Crystal Fox (Rose) brings a steady warmth and level-headed guidance to a sometimes tumultuous home. This is a male-dominated play, but Fox's performance indicates that women are a part of the cultural shift rumbling below the surface in the late fifties, too.

Per usual, the Huntington production staff executes brilliant visual designs, with an ominous urban neighborhood setting by Marjorie Bradley Kellogg, lighting by Ann Rightson and costumes by Mariann Verheyen. The only slight disappointment was the strange sound quality in the upper register of Dwight Andrews' otherwise complementary original music.

Treat yourself to Fences, playing through October 11 at the B.U. Theatre, 264 Huntington Ave. For tickets and information, visit the box office, call 617-266-0800, or purchase online at

Photo: Eric Antoniou

—Matthew Small

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