Home Blues American Blues Theater production of August Wilson classic ‘Fences’ sets the stage on fire | Chicago News

American Blues Theater production of August Wilson classic ‘Fences’ sets the stage on fire | Chicago News


Left to right, Martel Manning as Jim, Kamal Angelo Bolden as Troy and Shanésia Davis as Rose in ‘Fences’ at the American Blues Theater. (Credit: Michael Brosilow)

It’s been an extraordinary year for stellar revivals of three of August Wilson’s 10 Pieces of the Century Cycle – his stunning evocation of black life in every decade of the 20th century.

First, director Chuck Smith’s searing revival of “Gem of the Ocean,” the show’s origin story, produced by the Goodman Theater last February. Then, in May, there was “Two Trains Running,” Ron OJ Parson’s vivid rendition of Wilson’s 1960s episode produced by Court Theatre.

And now, for American Blues Theatre, director Monty Cole and his jaw-dropping cast have created a stunning production of “Fences,” Wilson’s family drama set in the late 1950s.

A painfully honest look at the relationship between a husband and wife, and a father and two sons, the play captures a sense of generational turmoil in a Pittsburgh family. And, along the way, Wilson subtly foreshadows the more overtly revolutionary era that would unfold in the 1960s.

Furthermore, this riveting production also serves as a powerful reminder of the many electrifying actors at work in Chicago – actors who can grasp Wilson’s writing and soar through the playwright’s most feverish and difficult passages. They turn Wilson’s words into what is almost the verbal equivalent of operatic arias.

Full of resentment, pain, rage, shattered dreams, endurance and yes, love, Wilson’s characters are both painfully real and larger than life. And here, staged in an ideally intimate space in the Theater Wit complex – with several long rows of seats on either side of the stage, and tall, fragmented paneled walls at either end of the room that hint at the towering fence that is not never quite complete – the emotional intensity is fully palpable.

At the center of “Fences” is a husband and wife. Troy Maxson (Kamal Angelo Bolden), a man in his 50s who as a young man excelled in the Negro Baseball League. He dreamed of being a major league player before blacks were accepted into his ranks, served time in prison, and worked for the city’s sanitation department for many years. His second marriage to Rose (Shanesia Davis), lasted almost two decades thanks to her being an indestructible force with a generous heart who tries to maintain peace in the family.

Troy has two sons. Lyons (William Anthony Sebastian Rose II), her child from a previous marriage. He’s a passionate but penniless musician supported by a working girlfriend. When he asks his father for a loan of $10, he is immediately refused.

Cory (Ajax Dontavius), Troy’s son with Rose, is an intense young high school student and gifted athlete who is aiming for a chance to win a college football scholarship at a time when color barriers were beginning to fall. But his father – more envious and bitter than worried – undermines this opportunity, and a furious and defeated Cory joins the Marines.

And that’s not all. A haunting presence throughout the play is Troy’s older brother Gabriel (Manny Buckley), who suffered severe brain damage as a soldier in World War II, and whose government reparations paid for the house of Maxson in which he had a room for many years. And then there’s Troy’s good friend, Jim Bono (Martel Manning), who supports Troy’s attempts to be promoted from his job as a dumpster to the less physically demanding job of truck driver, which he says is a position primarily reserved for white workers. .

Last but not least is the arrival of Raynell (Riley Wells), the baby girl born to Troy’s self-proclaimed mistress who dies in childbirth. Rose will take over as Raynell’s mother, but in a fiery statement she also informs Troy that from now on he will be “a man without a wife”.

August Wilson’s ‘Fences’ plays at the American Blues Theater until August 6, 2022. (Credit: Michael Brosilow)

Cole couldn’t have kicked off this production more ideally, and there are riveting performances from every member of his seven-person cast.

As Troy, the bitter, angry man who is a victim of both racism and his own self-pity, Bolden ideally captures the inner and outer rage that manifests in many ways and culminates in self-destruction. As Rose, a woman of immense strength and heart, Davis all but shuts the show down with her gallant performance of a searing monologue that clearly suggests this woman has finally broken free, painful as that may be. be.

And Dontavius ​​ideally suggests a young man who is both starved of his father’s admiration and support, but fierce enough to face him and push forward to succeed where his father failed. The actor is as powerful in his tense silences as in his moments of fierce physical rebellion (with a cleverly “choreographed” fight scene by Charlie Baker).

Buckley’s depiction of Troy’s brain-damaged brother is uncanny in the way it captures both the tragic and deeply spiritual aspects of the man, and also suggests what’s left of a still sentient being. Like Jim Bono, Manning ideally suggests the nature of a lasting male friendship. And as Raynell, the petite and feisty Wells brings a sense of hope and joy.

Of course, the deep-rooted genius at the heart of everything here is Wilson – a playwright whose understanding of human nature and how language can be both real and poetic was close to magic. “Fences” won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1987 and the Tony Award for Best Play. But there could be no greater testament to the grandeur of the play than this magnificent production.

“Fences” runs through August 6 at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont. For tickets, visit americanbluestheatre.com or by phone (773) 975-8150.

Follow Hedy Weiss on Twitter: @HedyWeissReview