BWW Review: FENCES at Ridgefield Theater Barn
On Saturday, February 3, I had the pleasure of experiencing a deeply moving and brilliantly intense production of August Wilson's FENCES at the Ridgefield Theater Barn in Ridgefield, CT. Under the direction of Katherine Ray, a highly talented cast of seven brings this powerful drama to life with such strong emotion that the audience gets drawn into the characters' feelings. This story about an African-American family in the 1950s has a universal appeal that transcends race, culture, religion, political affiliation, and time.
The set includes the porch and front yard of the family's home, and a door to enter a room with windows. Another room with windows and a phone is behind the porch. The outside is initially surrounded on the left and right with a partially completed fence. An alley leading towards the back of the house is stage right and used for entrances and exits. Entrances and exits are also made through the center of the audience, but the fourth wall remains intact at all times.
The show begins with the entrances of Troy Maxon and Bono, who are magnificently played by Foster Evans Reese and Kevin Knight, respectively. These two middle-aged friends are soon joined by Troy's wife Rose who is remarkably played by Tracey McAllister. The opening scene suggests that this emotional drama is going to be a comedy. The tight stage chemistry between Foster Evans Reese, Kevin Knight, and Tracey McAllister makes their dynamics feel so genuine and their reactions to each other so natural that the audience forgets that we are watching fictional characters whose interactions are then set in the 1950s.
Troy is the central character. He has a vivid imagination, telling stories about his encounters with the grim reaper and with the devil. This, however, makes some of his other stories questionable, like his claim to have had enough baseball talent to be a successful batter against legendary pitcher, Satchel Paige. What is not questioned, however, is his story of the horror he experienced, at home, as a child in a family of eleven children, with an abusive father, and a mother who left the family when Troy was only eight years old. It is at this point that it becomes clear that the show's central genre would be drama, a smooth and natural conversion from the comedy at the start, flawlessly shifted by this stellar cast.
Dan Fedrick plays the role of Gabriel, Troy's brother who had lost half his brain in the war, and believes that he has interacted with St. Peter at the gates of Heaven. Gabriel is a kind and likeable character who has a positive aura, despite not being completely mentally present. Dan Fedrick gives a convincing portrayal of Gabriel, perfect for the severity of the role, conveying the mental loss, without making it inappropriately comical. The uniqueness of such a character in a drama makes it all the more impressive that Dan Fedrick successfully sells every line he delivers and every motion he makes.
Troy's older son is 34 year old Lyons, played by Steffon Sampson. Lyons is Troy's son by a woman he had met prior to meeting Rose. Lyons makes appearances to ask Troy for money or to pay back borrowed money. Dialogue reveals that Troy was not always present for Lyons when growing up, yet has no problem blaming Lyons' mother for what Troy views as a character flaw in Lyons. Steffon Sampson's strong portrayal of Lyons helps give Lyons the likeable presence that endures throughout the show.
Troy's younger son is 17 year old Cory who has a gamut of emotions that actor Shelby Davis helps the audience feel, whether they are sadness, anger, or determination. The audience's hearts break for Cory when he questions Troy about why Troy doesn't like him. Troy's likeability decreases, when Troy gives his answer.
Cory wants a career in football, but Troy believes that Cory's race would prevent that from happening. This is a displacement of Troy's own bitterness over being racially denied a chance at playing Major League Baseball. Troy's failure to overcome his own deep seeded hatred harms an opportunity for his son to shine. We also see the unfortunate cycle of unloved children becoming unloving parents, a true tragedy. Cory remains likeable throughout the show, with the audience pulling for Cory to break this generational cycle of self-destructive behaviors and attitudes.
Raynell is a character who is excellently portrayed by Dania Fedrick. It would be too big a spoiler to explain who Raynell is, but she sings a great a cappella duet with Cory. While this show is not a musical, this is a song that was earlier sung, in part, by Troy. When Cory and Raynell sing it together, they add a Bo Diddley syncopation to it, as this song caps a very moving scene.
The drama unfolds with some very emotionally intense scenes, particularly between Troy and Rose and between Troy and Cory. The acting all around is so phenomenal that I could not possibly imagine this story being presented with any more feeling and power than what I witnessed with this first rate cast at the Ridgefield Theater Barn. I highly recommend FENCES, for mature audiences who are emotionally prepared for a deeply moving drama that will touch the hearts of all audience members. FENCES is scheduled to continue to run at the Ridgefield Theater Barn in Ridgefield, CT, every Friday and Saturday evening at 8:00 P.M., through February 24, with Sunday matinees on February 11 and 18 at 2 PM. For tickets, please go to http://ridgefieldtheaterbarn.org.