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REVIEW: “Fences”

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“Fences”, the Pulitzer Prize winning play by August Wilson with an award winning ensemble cast featuring Denzel Washington is utterly amazing. Denzel Washington plays Troy Maxson, the center of this play, and incarnates his character uniquely unlike any work done in his films. Viola Davis, who plays the wife Rose, won a Tony for her work in August Wilson’s King Hedley II and is superb. Chris Chalk, who plays the younger son Cory, is fresh from working on the Pulitzer Prize winning play Ruined. He is dynamic in a supporting role here for sure. Stephen McKinley Henderson plays the friend Jim Bono. He is perfect. Couldn’t imagine someone playing that role better. Henderson acted in King Hedley II, the revival of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, and was a member of August Wilson’s renowned Jitney ensemble. Russell Hornsby, who plays the older son Lyons, made his off Broadway debut in August Wilson’s Jitney. He’s great. Mykelti Williamson interprets the brother Gabriel and is best known for his role in Forrest Gump among other films. Wow- he makes you laugh to keep from crying and you cry anyway. Two newcomers play the daughter – Eden Duncan-Smith and SaCha Stewart-Coleman. Of course these thespians’ awards and experiences are more numerous than noted here but their seriousness to craft is apparent. The director Kenny Leons has directed a production of all of Wilson’s plays.

The cast is thorough.

August Wilson – and many will say this – was unafraid of the truth of life in his scripts. He wrote numerous notable works but this one, Fences, is what he is known best for and rightly so. This tale, this production, and this direction is ensemble work at its best. Fences illustrates the story of love expressed not stated by a man who is not perfect. He loved his friends and family the best way he knew how for the good and the bad of it. Troy Maxson is a man everyone knows: son, brother, father, husband, lover, and friend. Everyone loves him and sometimes likes him. At the same time, he has his demons and it is in there that the story unfolds. Do not shirk or shrink from it because you, the fourth wall, are part of it. As the onion’s layers peel away you see that these characters are all too familiar. You know them, love them, hate them, pity them, cry for them, and find their redemption your own. The empathy carried with this stellar cast is like sunlight in the morning. If you have never seen an August Wilson play run – not walk – to see this production. My last word to ply you is stunning.

August Wilson’s Fences is playing at the Cort Theatre 138 West 48th Street (between 7th & 8th Avenues) New York, NY 10036. It runs fourteen weeks from April 26 to July11, 2010. For tickets and show times go to. fencesonbroadway.com or call 212-239-6200 or 800-432-7250.

By Brook Stephenson

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