“Rose…got something to tell you.” A prolonged silence invades the stage at the McCarter theatre center where “Fences” is being played. An audible gasp rebounds from the spectators.
“Well, come on…wait till I get this food on the table.”
Troy doesn’t know how to put his words together, but he finally gets up courage:
“I’m gonna be a daddy. I’m gonna be somebody’s daddy.”
“You telling me you gonna be somebody’s daddy?”
With great dramatic know-how, play write August Wilson allows a minor action to momentarily intervene while Rose and Troy catch their breath. Then Rose says:
“Why, Troy? Why? After all these years to come dragging this in to me now. It don’t make no sense at your age.”
No, says Troy, “Age ain’t got nothing to with it.”
“I done tried to be everything a wife should be” says Rose, fighting against her tears. “Been married eighteen years and got to live to see the day you tell me you been seeing another woman and done fathered a child by her.”
Directed with the able hand of Phylicia Rashad, the artistic direction of Emily Mann and staring Esau Pritchett as Troy, Portia as Rose, Phil McGlaston as Bono, Jared McNeill as Lyons, G. Alverez Reid as Gabriel, Chris Myers as Cory and Taylor Dior as Raynell, “Fences” will be at the McCarter theatre center in Princeton, New Jersey, until February 9th.
Wilson was the fourth of six children of a white German father and an African-American mother and saw theatre as a means for raising Afro-American cultural consciousness. “Fences” was his second play to move to Broadway and won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1987.
The play takes place in the Pittsburgh Hill District in 1957. It is a bitter-sweet slice of life, a story told with simple but eloquent words, mixing humor and every day life with an almost Shakespearian sense of drama.
Troy Maxson was born to a sharecropper father who was frustrated because every crop took him deeper into debt. That feeling was transmitted to his son, Troy and to Troy’s family. He is not a hero, there is violence in him, but he has learned the value of work and the need to take responsibility for his actions. But in racist America the chances for a black man are still distant. “You’ve got to take the crooked with the straight,” he says. But he has his weakness. He has been messing around with another woman. He has made her pregnant.
“We can talk this out…come to an understanding.”
“Where was ‘we’ at when you was down there rolling around with some godforsaken woman?” Rose wants to know.
“It’s just…she give me a different idea…a different understanding about myself. I can step out of this house and get away from the pressures and problems…be a different man. I ain’t got to wonder how I’m gonna pay the bills or get the roof fixed. I can just be a part of myself that I ain’t never been…I can sit up in her house and laugh…and it feels good…” He adds with great honesty: “I done locked myself into a pattern trying to take care of you all that I forgot about myself.”
Rose wants to know what in the Hell she was there for. “I gave eighteen years of my life to stand in the same spot with you,” she says in a moving and very well acted monologue. “You don’t think I ever wanted other things? Don’t you think I had dreams and hopes? What about my life? What about me? Don’t you think it ever crossed my mind to want to know other men? That I wanted to lay up somewhere and forget about my responsibilities? That I wanted someone to make me laugh so I could feel real good? You not the only one who’s got wants and needs…I took all my feelings, my wants and needs, my dreams…and I buried them inside you…”
Troy’s extra-marital affair ends tragically: the mother dies giving birth to Raynell. There is also a tense relationship with Cory, his son. (Cory says: “You ain’t never gave mi nothing! You ain’t never done nothing but hold me back. Afraid I was gonna be better than you.”) Troy also dies later on. The son refuses insists he will not attend his father’s funeral. He sees his father as a shadow and not attending the burial is a way “to get rid of that shadow…I don’t want to be Troy Maxson. I want to be me.”
The January 12th performance received a well merited standing ovation. The acting, setting, costumes, lighting…all contributed to a noteworthy theatrical event.