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BWW Review: Wilson's FENCES Touches Audience

A fencer seeks to strike home his blade in his opponent's heart...figuratively speaking, since the United States Fencing Association does not subscribe to murder! When a fencer scores on his opponent, he gets "a touch." Though Pulitzer Prize winning playwright August Wilson may have never taken a foil in hand, he "FENCES" superbly, as his play of this same name scored many touches to the audience's heart at a recent performance at Baltimore's Everyman Theatre.

Alan Bomar Jones delivers a tour-de-force performance as Troy Maxson, a one-time home run king in the Negro baseball leagues and now, in the 1950s, scraping by as a garbage man. Jones uses his barrel-chested physique to full advantage as he projects a "larger than life" character who, as he swings a baseball bat or deals "strikes" to his rebellious son, Lyons (Gary-Kayi Fletcher), fills the stage.

Providing balance to Troy's close-to-combusting energy is Jason B. McIntosh's Bono who delivers humor and wisdom while serving as Troy's moral compass when Bono learns the married Troy has been having a little too much fun with another woman. When this infidelity is revealed Troy's wife, Rose, played by Joy Jones, lets loose a force of emotion that rival's her husband's.

This play is set during the Eisenhower era, when women were confined to the kitchen (where Rose spends most of her time in the detailed and elaborate set featuring a very realistic-looking "brick" two-story home) and a woman's identity was all too often secondary to her spouse's. The pain is palpable as Rose must educate Troy that his life does not exist in a vacuum, but is tied to her own.

What's particularly powerful about Wilson's play is how many characters undergo change. Rose, who evolves from accommodating wife to a mother with a fierce sense of will; Brayden Simpson's Cory, Troy's other son, who begins as a flamboyant musician and ends somber and tempered by life's demands; Lyons, who comes to forgive his father's shortcomings and embrace his memory; Bono, who must adjust his view of Troy from larger-than-life sports hero to mere mortal; and even child actor Gabrielle Nance's Raynell, who learns that Lyons, now a tall man in military uniform come to visit, is a brother she never knew.

If there's a constant it may be found in the role of Gabe (Bryant Bentley), Troy's brother, who had suffered brain damage from combat in World War II. Gabe is a character who seems to straddle two worlds, between Troy and his family, and the after-life.

While some might argue that Wilson's use of symbolism is a bit heavy-handed here (Gabe carries a flattened trumpet which he attempts to play to herald Troy's ascension to heaven, a clear reference to the Archangel Gabriel who blows a horn to announce Judgment Day) Wilson's execution is a deft and skilled, fitting nicely into the overall theme of the play-fences, that is those divides we sometimes place between ourselves and others, and between the world as it is and how we wish it to be. Gabe himself is like a fence that separate these troubled souls and the peace to which they all aspire.

Director Clinton Turner Davis keeps this extremely talented cast at a brisk pace that is engaging and captivating so that this two-plus-hour production flies by.

FENCES continues its run at the Everyman Theatre, 315 W. Fayette Street in Baltimore, now through Nov. 22nd. Tickets range $10-$60 and may be purchased by calling 410-752-2208 or visit www.everymantheatre.org.



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From This Author Daniel Collins