Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Also see Susan's review of School Girls; or, the African Mean Girls Play
Fences was one of the first to be produced in Wilson's Century Cycle of 10 plays, each one examining the African-American experience in a specific decade of the 20th century. This play is less a continuous story than a series of scenes that build to a resolution, but the joy of Wilson's writing is how he can use words to conjure up a specific world. His characters express themselves in down-to-earth yet lyrical speeches that define them and the society to which they belong.
Troy is a garbage collector in 1957 Pittsburgh, working alongside his friend Jim Bono (Doug Brown) and looking after his wife Rose (Erika Rose) and teenage son Cory (Justin Weaks). Once a baseball player in the Negro Leagues, Troy keeps going day by day, all the while resenting the fact that segregation kept him from a chance at playing in the major leagues.
Cory is a promising high school athlete who has a chance to attend college on a football scholarship, but Troy doesn't trust white men with contracts. That conflict is the key to their relationship: Cory asks if his father likes him and Troy says he doesn't have to like Cory, it's simply his responsibility to take care of him and his mother.
Under Timothy Douglas' direction, Wallace dominates even in scenes where he doesn't have to. Rose (the character) can be fiery, especially in her second-act showdown when she tries to settle accounts with Troy, but Rose (the actor) never heats up that much; she's less angry and more beaten-down, finally striking back in frustration and recriminations.
Weaks does a solid job as Cory, only able to accept his father in full after spending years discovering himself. Douglas has gathered several familiar Washington actors for the supporting roles: Doug Brown as Troy's friend Jim Bono, even-tempered and a counterbalance to Troy's emotional excesses; KenYatta Rogers as Troy's older son Lyons, who lives for playing music; and Jefferson A. Russell as Troy's brother Gabriel, who came home from World War II with a brain injury and is delusional yet has oddly lucid moments.
Lauren Helpern has created a poetic scenic design that melds the imaginativea graceful, curving treewith a photographic backdrop of the neighborhood.