The Sins of the Fathers
The sins of the fathers shall be visited upon the sons. In Fences, the character Rose alludes to this Bible verse, and indeed, it is the message of this heart-wrenching play. Now on stage at London’s Grand Theatre, Fences is the story of a dysfunctional black family, struggling with relationships and racism in Pittsburgh in the 1950s.
Playwright August Wilson, exploring the African-American experience, is the equivalent of Arthur Miller. Like All My Sons or Death of a Salesman, Fences is the narrative of a domineering father, who, haunted by his past, is now destroying his sons.
In this compelling story, Troy, the father, is a bitter man. In earlier years, he was a better baseball player than Babe Ruth, but only played in the Negro league. By the time Jackie Robinson broke the race barrier and got into big league baseball, Troy was too old. He is now a garbage collector, who would rather be driving the truck than dumping cans into the back. It would seem that his wife Rose is the only joy in his life, but we soon learn even she isn’t adequate. Troy relates a horror story about his father which sheds some light on his attitude towards his sons. He is critical of Lyons who is trying to make it as a musician, and he refuses to allow Cory to go to university on a football scholarship. As the result of various plot twists, he drives away both of his sons, his drinking buddy Bono, and eventually, his beloved wife Rose in this heart-breaking story.
Fences is a compelling play about broken relationships in difficult times. This production is brilliantly performed by a powerful cast. Nigel Shawn Williams dominates the stage as Troy Maxson. He is able to capture Troy’s boastful, arrogant, often nasty attitude, but still show Troy’s softer side in his playfulness with his wife. Just when Troy seems completely unlikeable, Williams shows Troy’s vulnerability. Like most bullies, Troy has a lack of confidence, and Williams is able to give the audience a glimpse of it. Equally talented is Ordena Stephens-Thompson in the role of his wife Rose. Stephens-Thompson takes the audience on a journey with Rose, from a busy, energetic housewife to a woman who ages rapidly with the burdens she is forced to carry.
E. B. Smith gives us an insightful Bono, Troy’s sidekick who dares to speak truth to him. Peter N. Bailey is Gabriel, Troy’s brother who was mentally disabled in the Second World War and became Troy’s ward. Bailey’s Gabe has method in his madness and doesn’t go over-the-top as some actors do, when portraying someone detached from reality.
Both Christopher Bautista (Lyons) and Ngabo Nabea (Cory) give powerful performances as the sons. They undergo a journey of discovery. Cory moves from a boy who loves his father, to seeing the reality of his father’s fearsome control. Bautista deserves special mention for playing evocative blues guitar music at each scene change.
The fight scene involving Williams (Father/Troy) and Nabea (Son/Cory) using the baseball bat was heart-stopping. It was so well choreographed that the audience gasped with each shove and swing of the bat, to the credit of Fight Director Anita Nittoly.
Fences is brilliantly directed by Djanet Sears who can add this powerful production to her already impressive list of credentials.
An interesting addition for this production is “stage seating”. The Grand is selling tickets for two rows of audience seating on each side of the stage for only $20. With all the action taking place right at centre stage in Troy and Rose’s back yard, the sides are put to good use. I’m sure it would be interesting to sit that close to the action, and you certainly don’t have to worry about the audience looking at you. You will be completely in the dark, and no one will even glance your way – all eyes are riveted on the play’s action.
Don’t miss this very moving, gut-wrenching production of Fences. It’s a powerful reminder of how the sins of the fathers are visited upon the sons (and daughters), and leaves you wondering what it will take for the generational chain to be broken.
Fences continues at the Grand Theatre, London until April 6. Tickets are available at the Grand box office at 672-8800 or 1-800-265-1593 or visit www.grandtheatre.com.
Photo: Left: Christopher Bautista (Lyons), Nigel Shawn Williams (Troy), Ordena Stephens-Thompson (Rose), Peter N. Bailey (Gabe) and in front E. B. Smith (Bono). Photo by Dahlia Katz.
By August Wilson
Directed by Djanet Sears
Performed by Peter N. Bailey, Christopher Bautista, Dylan Hough, Ngabo Nabea, E. B. Smith, Ordena Stephens-Thompson, Nigel Shawn Williams.
Grand Theatre, London
March 19 to April 6, 2019
Reviewed by Mary Alderson