Sunday, April 20, 2008

August Wilson's Fences

This past Friday night I saw August Wilson's Fences at the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre. This is a poetic & multi-layered play which I've read but never seen before. This production was very straight-forward & unadorned. Occasionally the lighting changes to highlight one of Troy's monologues, but otherwise there is little theatrical artifice. The front yard set was impressively realistic, complete with a dirt floor & a brick wall backdrop with a faded Coca-Cola ad.

The play is a showcase for the actor playing Troy Maxson, in this case the likable Alex Morris. He may be almost too likable for a character who is not only funny but also annoying, frightening & cruel. Very convincing were Elizabeth Carter as the maternal & reliable Rose & Hosea Simmons Sr. as the spiritually touched Gabriel. He was believably brain-damaged without being uncomfortable to watch. I liked how all of the characters had a distinctive way of moving as well as of speaking.

August Wilson ends the play with an open-ended stage direction that announces Troy's ascent into heaven. In this case, the production opted for a very simple solution to the challenge, with a celestial light suddenly shining down on the characters. It's not an especially daring or theatrical moment, but it does fit with the realistic & grounded style of the production.

The audience I saw the show with included a contingent of students from the San Francisco School of the Arts. I didn't even know we had such a school in the City. There was also a pre-show pitch for donations involving a confusing Macy's coupon offer.

The audience was very responsive, though I wasn't sure what to make of some of the audience reaction. I often felt there was a lot of inappropriate laughter. Was this an unsophisticated audience? Was it nervous laughter? Someone suggested to me that perhaps we've come full circle & that some of these situations have become stereotypes all over again.

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