Too Many Walls and Not Enough Bridges

By on 2 April, 2018 in Sarah Thornton with 1 Comment

“Some people build fences to keep people out… and other people build fences to keep people in.” -August Wilson’s Fences

During the first rehearsal for the Playhouse’s upcoming production of Fences, the cast sat around a circle of tables to read through the play. This was the first time our wonderful ensemble came together to delve into the words of August Wilson. It was the beginning of a two-month journey to create a world in the backyard of the Maxson family home in the 1957 Hill District of Pittsburgh. We had the pieces, now we would start to build.

In that first read-through, director Georgette Norman began talking with the cast about the story and the people in it. She spoke of the fences we put up in our lives. Literal fences, yes, just as Troy and his son Cory build throughout the play, but more importantly, the fences within our hearts. This is a play about a family, and the patriarch of the family is surrounded by walls. As the people in his life try to get close to him, their way is constantly blocked. How did this man become so guarded? How do the fences around him change the people who love him? Will they begin putting up fences of their own?

Troy Maxson, the central character, is larger than life. He is a force to be reckoned with. His is charming, commanding, funny, strong, and a provider for his family. Yet, he is a tragic hero in the truest sense, for we cannot fully embrace him as a hero. He is innately flawed, as we all are, and he has had a hard life and made many mistakes. Those hardships in life give us the materials to build those fences around ourselves if we let them. The production’s fearless director said this is part of what makes this play such a game-changer. “We see the rise and fall of an ordinary man.” You may ask, “How could this giant presence that commands the stage be ‘ordinary’”?

We all have dreams. Sometimes they come true, sometimes not. Troy Maxson had a dream to play baseball. Once heralded as the “homerun king” of the Negro Leagues, Troy believed he was destined to play in the majors. Unfortunately, he was a black man in 1957. He was robbed of his dream, and his bitterness at that injustice eats away at him. Instead of fame and glory gained from swinging for the fences, he is a garbage man who brings home $76.42 on payday. Even more fodder for the fire, his son Cory has been recruited to play college football. And Troy’s fences get higher…

August Wilson was a very important playwright partly because he gave voice to the African-American experience. In Fences, he shows us a family navigating the changing times of the 50’s (a pivotal decade for the Civil Rights Movement), but the focus of the story is just that: a family. Husband and wife, father and son, brothers, mothers and children. The building and tearing down of these relationships will deeply resonate with audiences. Ms. Norman says another thing that strikes her about this play is that “so much of 1957 is still present… the virtues and the fears.” She hopes the audiences leave thinking about “the need to visit personal histories and not become trapped or paralyzed by them, and the role that our personal histories play in our life choices and actions.” We expect that this brilliant play will be a catalyst for conversation and introspection about both our history and ourselves. Let’s start tearing down some fences and building some bridges.

Tickets for Fences at the Cloverdale Playhouse are on sale now. The show runs from April 26- May 6, Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm. Visit www.cloverdaleplayhouse.org or call the box office at (334)262-1530 for more information.

Sarah Walker Thornton is the Artistic Director of the Cloverdale Playhouse, who walks like a New Yorker and waves like an Alabama girl. She is a product of a Montgomery arts education, with several years of life in NYC thrown in for extra flavor.

 

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  1. Adeyela Bennett says:

    Great article

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