BWW Reviews: Denver Center's FENCES - Engaging Ensemble!

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The Denver Center Theater Company presents August Wilson's classic FENCES playing now through October 14th at the Space Theater. Troy Maxson, a star baseball player whose career was blunted by the racism prevalent in pre-Jackie Robinson America, now supports his family as a sanitation worker. Feeling his world rapidly changing, Troy builds a fence to protect what is familiar and hold off what threatens. Both muscular and lyrical, this August Wilson blockbuster, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and two Tony Awards, shows what can happen when a strong man is robbed of his dreams.

I was in college when I first read Fences and his grasp of the human condition and African Americans and his realistic and comfortable dialogue gave me a whole new respect for the craft of theater. Each role in this show forces you to fall in love with them (even Troy), which makes it that much more painful when betrayals and pitfalls affect their lives. I think that Mr. Wilson purposefully started this show on a Friday as the boys were getting off work, drinking and reminiscing instantaneously transport us into their story and their lives in the most lighthearted way. When Lyons drops by to see his pops to ask for money, and let him know about his shows, it is funny, but eventually you begin to realize that he is actually trying to get his fathers approval about his music and so desperately wants him to see him perform. When Troy betrays Rose by having an affair with another woman, it breaks your heart because you spent the whole first act being swept away by their romance. When Bono confronts Troy about the affair, it breaks your heart because the man and couple that Bono has put up on a pedestal is flawed and you know the friendship that we laughed and smiled about in act one will never be the same. When Troy kicks his own son, Cory out of his home, it breaks your heart because he so desperately wants his fathers approval and becomes disenchanted with him, while all his father wants is Cory to get a job and just survive...like he did. When Rose takes the daughter of another woman into her arms it breaks your heart because you realize that even through the upheaval, she is still compassionate and draws her strength from being a mother. When Coy refuses to go to his fathers funeral and the mother persuades him to come, it breaks your heart because you realize that even through everything that has transpired that a small part of Rose still loves that man and she understands and respects Troy's life, even in death. Finally the most gut-wrenching scene of all is when Gabriel who has spent the whole time trying to get everyone into heaven keeps blowing his horn to announce the arrival of Troy, it breaks your heart because even through his mental deficiency, he has unconditional love for his brother. My favorite image is when Troy is standing alone in his back yard with his completed fence surrounding him as though he is the one that is fenced in while everyone else is fenced out....of his heart.

This is very much a character driven play and this talented cast handled each of their unique roles with adoring respect for August Wilson, which was reflected onstage in their interactions with each other as a family. Also, the majority of this cast are making their debut at the Denver Center and it is so encouraging to see this amazing theater pull in such wonderful and diverse talent. David Alan Anderson was sensational and so charismatic in his Denver Center debut as the disillusioned and bitter father,Troy. He gave this character such strength while also giving Troy such a range of emotions. From his playful, chummy side with Boo to his flirtatious side with Rose; from his angry side at his son Cory to his tender, compassionate side with Gabriel and his daughter, Mr. Anderson developed this into an enthralling performance. Marcus Naylor as his best friend, Jim Bono was also quite good and I loved seeing his tender side when speaking about his family and the admiration for Troy's family. Their friendship was quite humorous and fun and both of the actors seemed very comfortable together. James T. Alfred as Troy's son, Lyons was one smooth talker and very charming. Jerome Preston Bates as Gabriel had one of the best performances of the night. His concentration and passion that he put into this challenging role captured everyones hearts and he commandeered that stage with every entrance to the delight of the audience. Seriously, how could you not love this character and the fantastic performance of Mr. Bates! His final moving scene had us all in tears cause we all felt his anguish. Calvin Dutton really thought the role of Troy's son Cory through and it was amazing to watch his transformation from a youth and a ball of energy into the man that he would become. His last speech when he let out all of the bitterness about his father was just fantastic and heartbreaking. From his moments to the inflection of his voice, it was truly amazing. Denver Center favorite Kim Staunton returns to a role near and dear to her heart - Rose. Her understanding of one of August Wilson's strongest female roles was absolutely mesmerizing to watch and she made Rose sassy and fun. She brought a smile to you face with her laughter and completely had you in tears when she was betrayed. Her speeches upon news of the adultery, the shock of caring for a illegitimate daughter and consoling her son after the death of Troy were each just breathtaking to witness. Her passionate and heartfelt performance is something to behold and she is truly a master class actress.

This set by designer Vicki Smith was absolutely wonderful. I love that the two-story facade looked lived in, showing signs of wear and tear from the prospective of the backyard. Thanks to small and thoughtful details, it also looked so inviting and had its own charm. There was also a lot of thought put into the lighting by designer Don Darnutzer which not only illuminating the backyard, gave foreboding of death and offerings of hope at the end, but also gave the inside of the house the warmth it needed. I also loved the blues and gospel music that filled the air thanks to sound designer Jason Ducat. The costume design by David Kay Mickelsen gave this show that realistic working class feel that it needed. I must also commend dialect and vocal coaching by Kathryn G. Maes, Ph.D, who gave the characters that urban feel that made them relatable. This is quite an impressive Denver Center debut for director Lou Bellamy and he made this show more a glimpse into their lives instead of a formal play, which I adored. On an interesting note - Bellamy is founder and Artistic Director of Penumbra Theatre located in Minnesota, which has produced 35 world premieres, including August Wilson’s first professional production and more of Wilson’s plays than any theater in the world. His intimate and knowledgeable background into this great man's work was truly reflected in this wonderful production. This was a wonderful homage to this great playwright!




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Michael Mulhern Michael Mulhern has lived in Denver and been active in it's theater scene for over 10 years. He is originally from Wiesbaden, Germany and graduated with a BFA in Theater Performance from the University of Wisconsin-Superior. Currently he performs in one to two shows a year and is a proud member of the Denver Gay Men's Chorus. Some of Michael's favorite performances include - Lend Me a Tenor, Guys and Dolls, The Shadow Box, Buried Child, and Jeffrey. He is proud to represent Denver and it's growing theater community on BroadwayWorld.com!


 
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