Review: ‘Fences’ at Marin Theatre Company (****)

(Charles Kruger)

(Rating: ****)

This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)
This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

(“Fences” plays at Marin Theatre Company from April 10 through May 11, 2014.)

The late Pulitzer Prize winning playwright August Wilson, by any measure, is one of the towering figures of 20th century theatre, as accomplished and canonical as any American playwright you could name. His “Pittsburgh Cycle” of ten plays explores the experiences of African Americans living in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, one play for each decade. His highly literate, accomplished and accessible works have been widely produced, and have transformed the face of American theatre by providing acting opportunities for countless African American artists both on Broadway and in regional theatres throughout the country.

“Fences” is Marin Theatre Company’s second staging of an August Wilson play (“Seven Guitars” was featured in the 2011 season) and it is a fine effort as helmed by director Derrick Sanders, who assisted the playwright on a number of premiers and brings intimate knowledge of the work to this production.

Set in the 1950s, “Fences” tells the story of former Negro League baseball star Troy Maxson. Never having the opportunity to play in the big leagues, Maxson works as a garbage collector to take care of his family. A complex man, he struggles to be a good husband to his devoted wife, and a good father to his football-playing son. Disappointed by his own encounters with racism in professional athletics, he disparages his son’s talent and strains their relationship. Troy faces many challenges to his marriage and his family relationships, all of which are lovingly explored in Wilson’s gentle script which nevertheless does not shirk form the hard issues of Troy’s life.

Margo Hall and Carl Lumbly in "Fences" at Marin Theatre Company.
Margo Hall and Carl Lumbly in “Fences” at Marin Theatre Company.

While this particular production is perhaps too straightforward in its staging and pacing, taking few risks, it nevertheless delivers solid emotion and skilled story telling for a memorable evening of theatre. Carl Lumbly as Troy gives his usual outstanding performance, but it is Margo Hall as his wife Rose who is most effective. Hall presents Rose as a deeply complex, thoughtful, passionate woman and seems to capture every nuance of language and emotion intended by the playwright, and then some. Hers is a truly outstanding performance.

The rest of the cast is fine throughout. Steven Anthony Jones as a supportive co-worker is quite good, and Adrian Roberts as Troy’s troubled, childlike brother is very moving.

For further information, click here.

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“Fences” by August Wilson, produced by Marin Theatre Company. Director: Derrick Sanders. Scenic Designer: J. B. Wilson. Lighting Designer: Kurt Landisman. Costume Designer: Christine Crook. Composer: Chris Houston. Sound Designer: Will McCandless. Properties Artisan: Seren Helday.

Raynell: Makaelah Bashir/Jade Sweeney. Rose: Margo Hall. Cory: Eddy Ray Jackson. Jim Bono: Steven Anthony Jones. Troy: Carl Lumbley. Gabrie: Adrian Roberts. Lyons: Tyee Tilghman. 

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