By Bob Evans
American playwright, August Wilson creates strong, powerful characters in his most popular play, “Fences” that opened Oct. 20 at the KC Rep’s downtown Kansas City venue, the Copaken Stage, to a near capacity crowd of enthusiastic theatre-goers.
“Fences” rips the gloss off an African American family struggling to survive in a hostile society that limited their effectiveness, dreams, family-life, expectations, and inner peace. Wilson’s carefully chosen words drive the heartbreak and pain with each line. His characters see their place in life and strain against their confines. His play slowly unfurls the disappointment of the lead character, Troy Maxson, and his unfulfilled dream to play baseball in the majors and his notion that rhythm makes the man, no matter what age. But, alas, timing is everything in the majors and Troy’s time passed after a stint in prison and his youthful dream vanished. Yet, he still clings to the idea that he was better than most at a time when Black players rode the bench so less talented White players could succeed.
The KC Rep’ magnificent version of the play amazes the audience with the talented cast, the striking set, the lighting, the sound, costumes, and all the subtleties that create stellar productions. There are no weaknesses in this production.
“In the American theatre cannon, there is no question that August Wilson has his rightful place beside Eugene O’Neill, Tennessee Williams and Lorraine Hansberry,” said KCRep Artistic Director Eric Rosen. “This seems like the perfect time and the perfect place to remind us of Wilson’s powerful voice and revisit the themes of his plays, right here in the heartland of America.”
The play, set in Pittsburgh involves Troy’s current family–Rose, his wife; and Corey, his son. Also, woven into the play are Troy’s friend Bono; Troy’s brother Gabriel; another son, Lyons; and a daughter. All characters add to the depth of the piece. Wilson’s beautiful character construction allows the actors to craft deep, rich, rounded characters as the play continues. Their dreams, their motivation, their fears, their heartbreak, their character combine to tell a complex but realistic story.
In “Fences” each of Wilson’s characters serves as an integral part of the story-line. Each character serves as a vessel to help tell the story. The props as well move the story forward. Why the name an focus on the fence? What significance do fences have to do with the play? Ho are the visible and invisible fences important to each character’s story? What do they say to audience members about life, life choices, life expectations? Only experiencing the play will bring answers to those questions. But, understand, they are part of the human experience, as the play points out.
Under the direction of Ron OJ Parson, the cast for the KCRep production features AC Smith as Troy Maxson, Greta Oglesby as Rose Maxson, Rufus Burns as Cory Maxson, Walter Coppage as Gabriel Maxson, Chester Gregory as Lyons, and Alfred Wilson as Jim Bono. Rotating as Troy’s daughter are Kyleigh Safffold and Criston Lee Starks. Rachel Laritz (Costumes), Jack Magaw (Sets) and Andre Pluess (Sound) make up the design team.
Upon entering the auditorium, audiences see the magnificent set, designed by Jack Magaw. The set is Broadway-worthy. Eric Rosen praised the set design after the opening performance. The set grabs the audience and pulls them into the story prior to the play’s opening lines.
Once the play begins, the actors take over, speaking Wilson’s lines with confidence and drive. Wilson’s dialogue creates full-bodied characters, but the actors bring the heart, pain, heartache, disappointment, and longing to each line. The professionalism of the cast creates a tight piece that could play any stage worldwide and garner standing ovations. Each character commands the stage and shows uncanny stage presence. The scenes with Gabriel show the tenderness of family compassion. The scenes with Troy and Corey show the pain of unfilfilled dreams and promise. Their conflict speaks to all father-son maturation processes, but this one shows unhappy consequences. The scenes with Rose allow her to build her character from soft-spoken to the strength and backbone of the impoverished society she lives. Rose covers Troy’s weaknesses until she can hold her silence no more.
Two local actors, Walter Coppage and Rufus Burns prove their acting skillls equal those of the New York actors brought in to play the leads in “Fences.” Kansas City’s talent pool continues to develop local talent and provide them strong parts to build their craft.
“Fences” continues at the Copaken Stage through Nov. 5. Tickets may be purchased by calling the KC Rep box office, 816.35.2700 or via the KC Rep website.
Tags: KC Rep, Kansas City Repertory Theatre, “Fences”, Kansas City Theater, Kansas City Performing Arts, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment.