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Theater: Fences
by Catey Sullivan
2006-02-01

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Playwright: August Wilson

At: Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis

Tickets: $26-$50, 773/753-4472

Runs through: Feb. 12

With Fences, director Ron OJ Parson hits one out of the ballpark. Emotionally ferocious, bone-authentic and so riveting that the nearly three-hour running telescopes down to the time and intensity of tightly contained flash fire, Court Theatre's production of August Wilson's drama is as rich and vibrant as theater gets. That's not hyperbole.

Fences is part of Wilson's cycle of plays covering every decade in the 20th century by examining the lives of African Americans. This is the 1950s play, set in 1957. The center of this alternately tragic, humorous and richly drawn story is Troy Maxon ( A.C. Smith in a volcanic, near-mesmerizing performance ) , a former star in the Negro Baseball League making a living as a garbage man.

'You came along too early,' Troy's told at one point. 'There ought never have been a time called 'too early,' ' he responds, 'If you can play, they ought to let you play.'

Troy's bitterness is lethal; he's hardened to near stone, a man who 'ain't got no more tears left. They're all spent.' He resents, oppresses and ruthlessly torments his son Cory ( Anthony Fleming III, an actor of quicksilver athletic grace and mercurial presence ) , a star high school football player. 'Just another nigger on the street,' he calls the young man at one point.

He loves his wife Rose but views his marriage as a dead-end, a soul-sucking treadmill that's left him 'standing in the same place for 18 years.'

That brings us to Jacqueline Williams, who plays Rose. An actress who can depict fathoms-deep emotions with the flicker of an eye or the crossing of an arm, Williams stuns with a performance that contains the power of the mightiest storm and the incremental subtlety of a slow bloom.

Smith is just as powerful when Troy—a man 'with more stories than the devil has sinners'—is in tale-telling mode, recounting harrowing encounters with Death, and his own brutal upbringing.

The cast is rounded out by a flawless group of supporting players including John Steven Crowley as Troy's best friend Bono, Victor J. Cole as Gabriel, a mentally impaired veteran, and Rolando A. Boyce as Lyons, Troy's older son and a musician who has managed to escape from under his father's fist.

Parsons has melded a superb ensemble, and delivers a complex, urgent drama with power, nuance and glory.


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