Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

November 11, 2022

REVIEW: Playhouse on Park, "Fences"

Playhouse on Part, West Hartford, CT
through November 20, 2022
by Gene Alan

Photo by Meredith Longo
August Wilson's play "Fences," the sixth in Wilson’s 10-part “Pittsburgh Cycle,” is deeply rooted in Connecticut. It was introduced at the Eugene O’Neill Theater in Waterford in 1983 and had its world premiere at Yale Rep in 1985. The play went on to Broadway in 1987, starring James Earl Jones, winning the Pulitzer Prize for Drama as well as the Tony Award for Best Play and Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play. Denzel Washington starred in the 2010 Broadway revival, as well as directing and starring in the 
2016 film adaptation.

Set in 1957 Pittsburgh, in the backyard of former Negro Baseball League star Troy Maxon (the brilliant Jamil A.C. Mangan) and deals with the literal and symbolic “fences” that he creates in his life. Here we meet the principal characters in Troy’s life: his best friend Bono (Eric Carter), a prison-mate, now both working as garbage collectors; Rose, Troy’s loving and devoted wife (Yvette Monique Clark); Lyons, his son from a previous marriage (Jerry Hamilton) Troy’s brother (Daniel Danielson), suffers from brain damage caused in WWII and thinks he’s the archangel of the same name. Finally, we meet and Rose’s son Cory (Khalfani Louis), a high school student and promising football player.

Many themes are explored in this snapshot of Troy’s life and the emotional scenes that enfold in this 2 ½ hour play – racial barriers, discrimination, infidelity, responsibility to family, great love and loss, friendship, betrayal, hubris and the destruction of hopes and dreams in an effort to set things right.

Director Kenney M. Green has done a wonderful job telling this story with a very competent group of actors. Mangan carries the weight of the entire play and does so with great power and touching moments of insight, in what is truly a bravura performance. Carter’s subtle and nuanced portrayal of Bono brings a genuine believability to the character and his relationships. Danielson, as Gabriel, makes bold choices in both voice and body movement that were so well executed and consistent that I couldn’t take my eyes off him. It was so joyous and so heartbreaking to watch.

At this performance, a pre-show announcement was made that the original actor playing Lyons had taken ill. A replacement was found and arrived at the theater just an hour or so before. Hats off to Jerry Hamilton who went on with script in hand and did a good job playing the role and allowing the show to go on as scheduled. Well done, Jerry!

Also, a shout out to the young, local actress Gibson Quinn who played Raynell. In a scene in Act II, a gin bottle left behind on the porch was accidentally kicked over. As the “gin” started to pour down the steps, Gibson calmly acknowledged what had happened and smoothly kept the dialogue going, not skipping skip a beat.

All of the technical elements in this production are very well executed, which is the norm at Playhouse on Park. Baron E. Pugh’s set is simple and effective. Multi-talented theater artist Johann Fitzpatrick’s lighting design is clean and subtle and utilized beautifully to show the passing of time. Valinda McGregor’s costume design is accurate and purposeful and adds a lovely authenticity to the characters.

This is a stirring production of "Fences".