Thursday, August 28, 2014

Gloucester Stage Company Hits A Home Run with August Wilson's "Fences"



I have never been disappointed with a show that I have seen at Gloucester Stage Company.  Under the leadership of Artistic Director Eric C. Engle, GSC consistently produces plays and musicals that delight Cape Ann audiences and bring in theater patrons from beyond the North Shore.  The final production of the company's 35th Anniversary Season is no exception.  August Wilson won the Pulitzer Prize in 1987 for "Fences," part of his iconic Pittsburgh Cycle of ten plays - one for each decade of the 20th Century.  "Fences" is set in 1957 and tells the story of a former Negro League baseball slugger who has settled down to a humble life as a garbage collector in Pittsburgh.

Wilson's brilliant writing often follows a familiar arc.  Act I proceeds in a deliberate manner, setting the pieces upon the chess board and establishing the field of battle.  In Act II, the pace accelerates and often explodes into stunning violence.  The key chess pieces in this drama are Troy Maxson, his wife Rose, their son Cory, a step-son Lyons, a co-worker Bono, Troy's brother Gabriel and Raynell, Troy's love child.

The personal relationships are complex and twisted.  Troy and Bono drink and dream of a better life.  Lyons demands a loan from his father.  Cory is the rebellious teenager at odds with an embittered father who seems intent on thwarting his dreams to be a star athlete.  Rose is the strong and long-suffering wife trying to make a home under trying circumstances.  Gabriel is brain damaged from a war injury and lives in a world in which he believes he helps St. Peter to guard the Pearly Gates.  Raynell comes along to throw a spotlight on all that is wrong in the Maxson household and to serve as a catalyst for healing.

Mr. Engel's cast receives a huge boost from the very realistic set deigned by J. Michael Griggs.  It feels like 1957 Pittsburgh Hill District.  Costumes by Molly H. Trainer, Props by Joe Stallone and Lighting by Russ Swift all serve to enhance the feel that the action is taking places in the down-at-the-heels Hill neighborhood.  Wilson's play asks the metaphorical question: "Are you building a fence to keep people out, or to keep people in?"

Daver Morrison as Troy
Jacqui Parker as Rose
Jared Michael Brown as Cory
August Wilson's "Fences"
Gloucester Stage Company
Photo by Gary Ng


The cast members each embrace their roles and define their characters with energy, precision and grace.  They are:

Daver Morrison as Troy Maxson brings an intensity and controlled sense of rage and desperation that is fitting for a former athlete who never got his shot at the brass ring.  He is flawed as a husband and as a father, but does his best to balance a sense of duty with a desire for something more for himself.  Mr. Morrison project a sense of hard-earned dignity amid complex challenges and tragedy.

Jacqui Parker as Rose matches Mr. Morrison's intensity.  When Troy's infidelity threatens to blow the family apart, her strength and powerful sense of self hold the fragile framework of the household together.  There is a classic confrontation when Troy brings home the new-born love child, whose mother has died in childbirth.  After Rose wrestles deeply with how to respond to Troy's affront and challenge, she appears to soften and reaches out for the baby.  With maternal warmth, she agrees to raise the baby girl as her own, but then she turns on Troy with a look that would freeze the staunchest soul and proclaims: "But you are a man without a woman."  It is a piece of brilliant acting.

Gregory Marlow is also excellent as Bono, who is not only Troy's drinking buddy, but is also his Jimuny Cricket conscience, trying futilely to warn Troy to give up his girlfriend and be true to Rose.

Warren Jackson is very effective as Lyons, who projects a jaunty air of the 30-something son struggling to prove his independence while occasionally coming to beg for a loan.

Jermel Nakia as Gabriel has to do the hardest work, for the physicality needed to portray the damaged war veteran is prodigious.  The scene pictured below in setting the scene for Troy's funeral is powerful, largely because of the effort that Mr. Nakia puts into showing Troy's desperate sincerity.

Jacqui Parker as Rose
Warren Jackson as Lyons
Jermel Nakia as Gabriel
August Wilson's "Fences"
Gloucester Stage Company
Photo by Gary Ng
Jared Michael Brown is very believable as the rebellious son, Cory, whose dreams of being a star athlete like his father, are thwarted at every turn by the very man whom he had hoped to emulate.  The brokenness and rage that build up inside Cory are portrayed with great skill by Mr. Brown.

Bezawit Strong as young Raynell shines a healing light of innocence into the darkest corners of this conflicted family, and serves as the catalyst for the events that allow Cory to come to grips with needing to attend the funeral of the father from whom he had become estranged.

This is a powerful and moving production of one of the finest plays of the 20th century.

As the waning days of summer dwindle down to a precious few, consider a trip to Cape Ann. Enjoy the landscape, the beaches, the restaurants, the art galleries - and then end your day in scenic East Gloucester with a performance of this wonderful play.

This production runs through September 7.

Enjoy!

Al

Gloucester Stage Website

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