BWW Reviews: Pearland Theatre Guilds' FENCES is Enjoyable Despite Flaws
When it comes to the development of drama in the United States, August Wilson's legacy is undeniable. His plays are recognized for being influential and sumptuously powerful. His Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning drama FENCES certainly upholds this banner. Currently being presented at Pearland's Pearl Theater by the Pearland Theatre Guild, this celebrated American work masterpiece is being brought to life in a compelling and touching way.
FENCES takes audiences to Troy Maxon's backyard in an unspecified Northern industrial city during the 1950s. Troy Maxon, once a great baseball player in his youth, is currently working as a garbageman. His son, Cory, dreams of going to college on a scholarship for athletics. With impenetrable bitterness about his own dashed opportunities in professional sports, Troy bitterly fights against his son's pursuing dreams of sports stardom. He also allows his discontentment with his own life to negatively affect his relationships with the other members of his family and the community in which he lives.
As director, Cheryl Loudd has cast the play well. Looking at the entire production as a whole, it feels like the second act was given more priority in rehearsal though. At the performance I attended, the entire cast stumbled over their lines countless times during the first act. Furthermore, there were moments where the line deliveries felt unnatural because members of the cast would begin the line, drop the inertia of the words by fumbling a word or two, and backtrack to the beginning of the last sentence. Certainly, this occurs naturally when humans speak, but during the first act it occurred with too much frequency. Conversely, the second act flowed much better. The deliveries were more smooth and precise. The words were given emotional weight and clarity, and a few touching moments caused my eyes to mist over.
Leading the show, Cleo House, Jr. plays Troy Maxon as a stubborn man that has learned many of life lessons in a hard way. Because of his experiences, his views of the world are pessimistic at best and negatively color how he perceives events. Like any father, he wants the best for his son; however, as he is suffering the consequences from his own dreams being ruined, he stifles Cory's dream. It is in these moments that Cleo House, Jr. is his most convincing, bringing tangible life to Troy's vision of parental obligation. Moreover, in the second act, when addressing death directly, he gives stirring and emotionally rich monologues. Unfortunately, throughout a majority of the play he allows the emotionality of the character to overshadow August Wilson's nuanced words and sacrifices clean line deliveries for oversold emotionality.
Renee van Niferik as Rose Maxson, Troy's wife, and Anthony August as Cory Maxon, Troy's youngest son, ground the show in its rich and fascinating conflict. Both characters struggle against Troy Maxon's overwhelming self-importance and must chose to stifle their own personalities in order to get along with the cynical man. Anthony August's Cory willfully defies his father, enraging him and risking losing his family to chase his dreams. On the other hand, Renee van Niferik's Rose willingly loses her individual personhood completely to her husband, which makes his infidelity all the more painful for her. Without personal strength of her own, she watches almost idly as he ruins their relationship. The ever faithful wife, she champions him and supports him in spite of his poor decisions.
BJ "Benjamin" O'Neal plays Jim Bono as the opposite of Cleo House, Jr.'s Troy Maxon. The two are best friends, but Jim Bono is optimistic, hopeful, and cheerful. Broderick Davis' Lyons Maxson is chasing his dreams of being a jazz musician, paving the way for his younger brother. However, he has an estranged relationship with his father because of the choices he has made in his life. Wilson Daniels, playing Troy's younger brother - Gabriel Maxon, is often humorous when on stage. His character suffers a wartime head injury that has damaged his brain. At times his colorful outbursts are welcomed and help lighten the mood. Regrettably, the severity of Gabriel's condition is glossed over in Wilson Daniels' performance, which makes Troy's decision to have him hospitalized not as emotionally effective as it should be. Keri Palmer's Paynell Maxson is a perfect portrait of a young girl with a lot of questions.
Set Design by Ed and Robyn LeGris is capably effective in the limited space of the venue. It presents the audience with an urban backdrop that surrounds the small but efficient family dwelling. Lighting Design by Bill Lundgren and Renee van Nifterik is minimal, but allows for some variation between the differing times of day. It is most effective when Troy Maxon delivers his monologues directly to death, with a white spotlight on the actor that is surrounded by a sea of red light.
FENCES is an important piece of American theatre and literature, so there is really no excuse for audiences to not be beating down the doors to see this production. The flaws that do occur can be largely attributed to the fact that the company producing it is strictly utilizing volunteer efforts from their community. The flubbing of lines does impede the delivery of the show, but the production is still an enjoyable experience overall.
FENCES, produced by Pearland Theatre Guild, runs at the Pearl Theatre, 14803 Park Almeda Drive, Houston, 77047 now through February 16, 2014. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. For tickets and more information, please visit http://www.pearlandtheatreguild.com or call (713) 340-2540.
Cleo House, Jr. as Troy Maxson.
The cast of FENCES.
Wilson Daniels as Gabriel Maxson.
Anthony August as Cory Maxson & Wilson Daniels as Gabriel Maxson.