Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 10, 2023

Review: Shakespeare & Company, “August Wilson’s Fences”

Shakespeare & Company, Lenox, MA
through August 27, 2023
by Shera Cohen

Photo Courtesy of Shakespeare & Co.
Are fences built to keep people out or to keep people in? This is the theme throughout “August Wilson’s Fences”. 

The perimeter of the set is a dirty, white, old, and rickety fence. The fence needs fixing; so do the people who live in the home. While there are attempts to repair the wooden slats, nothing changes. So, too, for the extended African-American family living in the house. The year is 1957.

Troy Maxson, a physically large man with a resounding voice, is at the center of the play’s conflict. The world revolves around him, yet he hates his life and regrets what could have been. Actor “ranney” (Troy) has a workout, appearing in nearly every scene. The audience’s feelings for Troy are mixed as the character goes from average Joe to boisterous wannabe envisioning himself, or at the very least his son, as the next Jackie Robinson at bat. “ranney” is a superb actor, squeezing out every varied emotion from Troy in his place in this world. “ranney” is also expressive in his silence.

His wife Rose doesn’t have a lot to do in Act I, except as a sounding board for the rants of her husband and other men in the back yard. Rose is on the periphery of life and even her own home. Characters need to constantly remind Troy that his wife is a “good woman”. 

However, Ella Joyce gives her all in a 180-degree turnaround as Rose in Act II. She’s no porch-sitting, middle-aged, Black woman preparing a meal. Joyce explodes, pulling out Rose’s every emotion necessary to face reality and/or to get the hell out of her situation if she can.
The actors in supporting roles make each character necessary. The play would not be complete without all in their relationship to the others.
“Fences” isn’t merely a slice of life theatre piece. There is a plot and execution. To say more would be a spoiler. Director Christopher V. Edwards, calls the play, “…about the scaling down gigantic dreams to fit humble lives.” Edwards and his set designer [not credited in the program] have created a not-so-nice neighborhood, with a glowing red backdrop to the mundane house. Maybe possibilities of something better are to come? Maybe not.