This second coming of “Fences” is anything but a repeat, and definitely serendipitous. Last time around Southers was the producer in nearly every sense of the word designing and building sets and the rest of the behind-the-scenes grunt work; this time the founder is also the director. The cast is all new except for one exception, Kevin Brown; instead of reprising Gabriel he now portrays Troy Maxson. Rounding out the stellar ensemble is Sandra Dowe, Wali Jamal, Nia Woodson, Broadway veteran Anthony Chisholm, Maurice Redwood and Carter Redwood.
Troy Maxson is a man who daily tries to salvage his dignity. Along with his best friend Bono (Wali Jamal), his indulges in his payday ritual; replaying the work week with more than a couple of tall tales enhanced by a shared brown paper bag of gin. Troy’s oldest son Lyons (Maurice Redwood), an aspiring musician, stops by and asked to borrow $10. After sweating the young man, his wife Rose (Sandy Dowe) intervenes, gives Lyon the money after Troy gives her his weekly earnings and reminds him to finish the fence he promised her.
While Troy rules his castle, we learn all is not right in his kingdom. Bono alerts Troy that he knows the affair about Alberta. Cory (Carter Redwood) has grown into his own and rebels against his father’s objection to his dream to accept a college football scholarship. His brother Gabriel (Anthony Chisholm), a wounded WWII veteran, is also spreading his wings and moved from Troy’s house to a place of his own. After a minor run-in with the police, Troy bails Gabriel out of jail; in three weeks a hearing will determine if Gabriel should be return to an asylum. He tells Rose about his affair, an argument erupted that caught Cory’s attention, arriving at the door just in time to see his father grab his mother. Cory grabs his dad from behind and the two fight. On top of Cory’s earlier defiance, Troy tells the youth he’s about to “strike out.”
At its heart, “Fences” is adapting to changes in life, society and family; and this is where the importance of casting appears. With the exception of Chisholm, all of the actors are local. They share a commitment to Wilson’s work and have all appeared on stage with one another in productions throughout the region. Carter Redwood grew up on Pittsburgh Playwright Theater’s stage; his brother is a Playwrights’ veteran on and offstage.
Brown is searing and heart wrenching as a prideful man whose life unravels with the passage of time.
Dowd’s Rose is the glue that holds the family together—including the baby Troy bring home after its mother dies in childbirth. As Bono, Jamal is the sage that steadies Troy as his reckoning approaches. Maurice is effective as the slightly-estranged older son while Carter is a bundle is bursting maturity who “mans up” to the imposing Troy. Chisholm’s portrayal of Gabriel is fragile and haunting and newcomer Nia Woodson is adorably understated as an eight-year old Raynell.
The set is the unsung star of the production as Fences is a presented on a revolving stage (kudos to Tony Ferrieri), and period pieces—check out the refrigerator—and costuming (and make-up by Cheryl El Walker) add to the authenticity of the production.
(“Fences” continues at Pittsburgh Playwrights Theater Company weekends through May 30 with 3 p.m. Sunday matinees. For prices or to purchase tickets log on to pittsburghplaywrights.com or 412-687-4686 for groups.)