Tuesday, June 8, 2010

More on Fences and August Wilson

I passed on my recommendation of the current Broadway revival of Fences a few weeks ago. A much longer review is in the June 4 issue of Commonweal, and subscribers can read it online here. (An online-only subscription is just $29, by the way.)

Before getting to the play under review, I devote a lot of space to explaining who August Wilson was and why he's important. Here's a sample of what I had to say about Kenny Leon's "splendid" production:
As Troy, film star Denzel Washington puts his considerable Hollywood charm to use in bringing out the character’s endearing qualities along with his flaws. He expertly locates the vulnerability beneath Troy’s bravado. Viola Davis (Oscar-nominated for the 2008 film Doubt, and a veteran of several cycle plays) is a restrained but powerful presence as Rose. The fence around the yard that Troy is building throughout the play is Rose’s idea—an expression of her desire to define and protect what she values. She is a reconciler, determined to hold her family together; she stays on the margins of the men’s conversation in the yard and changes the subject whenever she senses danger or discord. She looks out for the son from a previous marriage whom Troy neglects, and for Gabe, Troy’s brother, brain-damaged in the war. Rose knows Troy’s faults better than he does, and when she finally explodes in anger, the scene is heartrending: “You take,” she tells him, “and don’t even know nobody’s giving!”
Like so many of Wilson’s characters, Rose finds her strength in religion; she turns to the church when her marriage lets her down. But the prophet of Fences is Troy’s disabled brother, who “believes with every fiber of his being that he is the Archangel Gabriel.” Gabe predicts that Troy’s story will end in glory—“St. Peter got your name in the book,” he insists. “I seen it.” And Gabe’s advocacy bears fruit in the play’s final moments, when—according to the stage directions, beautifully interpreted here—“the gates of heaven stand open as wide as God’s closet.”
Even if you don't subscribe, you can visit dotCommonweal for more thoughts from me on August Wilson.

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