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James A. Williams, Kim Staunton, & Craig Alan Edwards.  Photo: Chris Bennion
James A. Williams, Kim Staunton, & Craig Alan Edwards. Photo: Chris Bennion

Theatre Review: "Fences" at Syracuse Stage

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August Wilson's Fences closes out the season at Syracuse Stage, running through May 30. Resident theatre critic Connie Meng was at the opening night and has this review.

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Connie Meng
Theatre Critic

August Wilson's Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning play FENCES, that debuted 25 years ago, is currently being given an excellent production at Syracuse Stage. Directed by Artistic Director Timothy Bond, FENCES is a powerful play centered on Troy, a bitter black ex-ballplayer now a garbage collector, and his relationship with his teen-age son Cory. Set in Pittsburgh in 1957, Troy struggles to fulfill his own perception of his role as a father.  Although he resents his company's policy of "white's drivin', colored liftin'," he provides for the family.  In a painful scene with Cory he points that out but adds, "It's my duty.  I ain't got to like you."

William Bloodgood's backyard set of old brick is very good, from the clutter under the wooden porch with its clothesline and pulley to the partially built fence.  Speaking of the clothesline, why does Rose hang up a basketful of clothes that are obviously dry?  Also, please come up with a baby that looks less like a baguette wrapped in a bath towel.

Geoff Korf's lighting is fine, especially the glimpses of the kitchen interior and the magical glow of the final stage picture.  I liked Michael G. Keck's original music, but the level seemed too high, punctuating the ends of scenes with an exclamation point when perhaps an ellipsis would have been more appropriate.  However, I'm always a sucker for the sound of crickets.

The costumes by Constanza Romero, August Wilson's widow, are excellent.  It's not surprising that Ms. Romero has been nominated for a Tony Award for her costumes for the current Broadway revival of FENCES.  She's done a skillful job of ageing the characters for the final scene, particularly Rose and Lyons, who both add subtle and effective changes in carriage and posture to the carefully chosen clothes.

The cast is strong and well balanced.  Seven-year-old Yeumurai Tewogbola does a nice job as Raynell in her theatre debut.  As Lyons, Troy's older son, Jose A. Rufino is very good, especially in the final scene.

William Hall Jr. is very appealing as Troy's pal and drinking buddy, Bono.  As Gabriel, Troy's brain-damaged brother, Craig Alan Edwards is both believable and touching, particularly in his attempt to finally blow his trumpet - perhaps symbolically with no mouthpiece.

Stephen Tyrone Williams does a fine job as Cory, the target of Troy's bitterness and resentment. It's clear in the final scene that he's succeeded in becoming his own man. As Rose, Troy's loving but long-suffering wife, Kim Staunton gives a thoroughly believable performance.  The confrontation with her husband in Act II is achingly good.

The glue that holds the play together is Troy, well played by James A. Williams.  Initially we see primarily his anger and bitterness, but he gradually reveals the complexities of the character.  His Act II drunk scene with Cory is painfully real. He's a man who believes he's never had a chance, but is trying to live up to his own sometimes skewed standards.

Mr. Bond has done a fine job of directing this American classic.  The staging and pacing are good, and the characters fully human.  My companion pointed out that this kind of father/son relationship also exists in white blue-collar families, although the bitterness comes from a different source.  However, as Mr. Bond pointed out in an interview, "There are still . . . fences around opportunities for African Americans and people of color."  FENCES is a very powerful play that still resonates.

On a scale of one to five the Syracuse Stage/Seattle Repertory Theatre co-production of FENCES gets four and a half oranges.  For North Country Public Radio I'm Connie Meng.  

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