The Little Theater of Alexandria blew up the roof of the building last Wednesday with its production of “Fences” by August Wilson. The production is tense, layered, and deserves the standing ovation it received that night.
This staging is also framed and supported by beautifully detailed set design by Matt Liptak, with lighting by Ken and Patti Crowley. These two supporting factors, along with the set decoration, sound design, and costume design all play a cohesive role in making this a great production.
… Tense, layered and worthy of the standing ovation he received that night… a talented cast that brings this story to a compelling life. It is a production not to be missed.
“Fences” is a deceptively simple piece. It’s a slice of life in the early 1950s, centered around a garbage collector who was a star in Black League baseball but never made it to the big leagues due to institutionalized racism. Troy Maxson (a commander Albert Bolden) also served 15 years in prison for murder while committing a robbery. Now 53, he reflects on his life and his legacy, and becomes increasingly embittered by the choices he has been denied. Things are brought to a head by his son, a high school student who wants to pursue a career in football and who might stand a chance – the chance denied to his father. His bitterness begins to infect all of his relationships. Despite this, he manages to break through the color barrier and become the first black driver of a garbage truck in Pittsburgh (the play is the sixth of Wilson’s 10-part “Pittsburgh Cycle”) – a minor victory he relishes. .
It’s a beautifully written play, and the cast does it full justice. At the heart of the story are Troy’s wife Rose (Brenda Parker), teenage son Cory (Jared Diallo) and brother Gabriel (Ayyaz Chouhury). Other important relationships are with his first son Lyons (Mack Leamon), a jazz musician, and his best friend, Jim Bono (DeJeanette Horne), who also works at the garbage collection agency. Raynelkl (Maya Bolden) is her unexpected last child. We are introduced to her in the last section of the room when she meets Cory, whom she hasn’t seen since she was little.
From the moment he walks in, Bolden commands the stage as Troy. He’s bombastic, a little bitter, confident and inarticulate about his insecurities, which he has buried deep. Its base is Rose. Parker lives in Rose as if she were an alter ego. At first, she seems rather naive, proud of her home and happy to play her larger-than-life husband’s second violin. As the scenes progress into the second act, you realize that she is the foundation on which Troy stands. When he finally cracks that bedrock, she takes the steel underneath and shamelessly does what she must to survive with grace and dignity – and to protect the baby, Raynell. Rose becomes queen.
Choudhury is fascinating as Gabriel. He’s a wounded (head injury) veteran who lives in his own world and tells beautiful and strangely fascinating stories about St. Peter’s and Heaven. He moved from his brother and sister-in-law’s small house (which his money actually paid for) and rented a room to have some independence. Its performance is nuanced and clever.
Cory’s story arc sets things in motion. He dreams of a bigger life in the face of his father’s failures. Diallo is convincing both as a 17-year-old who resents his father’s restrictions and manipulations, and adamantly refusing to simply listen to him, and as a young corporal in his twenties who returns. home on leave from her service in the Marines for her father’s funeral and meets Raynell – and finds a way to bond with her. Diallo is still a student and a young talent to watch.
While this remains a subtext, the institutionalized racism black people experience in America lurks underneath everything – wherever they live; how, when and where they work; how they interact in a larger world; and how it stifles hope. The characters Wilson created rarely mention it explicitly, but it resonates in every line, scene, and in those fences – real and metaphorical. Eleanore Tapscott’s staging is simple and subtle, and all the more captivating for this light touch.
Little Theater of Alexandria has assembled a talented cast that brings this story to life. It is a production not to be missed.
Duration: About two hours and 30 minutes with a two-minute intermission.
Show review: language for adults.
“Fences” by August Wilson runs through September 25, 2021 at the Little Theater of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe St, Alexandria, VA 22314. For more information, please click here. Click on here for their COVID policy.