In August Wilson's Fences, Troy Maxson is certain he had the skill to play major league baseball, but was been denied the opportunity because of his skin color. It's the late 1950s, a few years after Jackie Robinson broke the race barrier in Major League Baseball, and Troy's wife Rose says race relations are changing for the better. But Troy, now in his fifties, says he's been "stuck on first base" for years.
Director Anthony Bean is presenting Fences at Anthony Bean Community Theater for the second time, having completed Wilson's entire 10-play, decade-by-decade chronicle of African-American life in the 20th century. Fences explores the psyche of a family during the early stages of the civil rights movement in Pittsburgh. Troy (Will Williams) is a sanitation worker fighting for the opportunity to become a driver, a position held only by whites. He's tired of being treated unfairly and wants to earn more money to support Rose (Gwendolyne Foxworth) and their teenage son Cory (Tony Felix). Williams delivers a passionate, larger-than-life performance as a commanding, fast-talking guy who also likes to crack jokes with his best friend Jim Bono (Harold X. Evans). The two men have a deep bond, and Evans' performance is full of warmth.
Troy is restless. He's been married to Rose for 18 years, but is involved with another woman. Foxworth gives a poignant performance as a woman scorned who is endlessly nurturing to Troy's out-of-wedlock daughter Raynell (Emani Johnson). Johnson is charming in the role of the fourth-grader.
Troy also feels responsible for his younger brother Gabriel (Alfred Aubry), who was brain-injured in World War II and has a metal plate in his head. Gabriel believes he's a heavenly messenger for St. Peter and carries a trumpet. Aubry brings the right level of emotion and nuance to the complicated character.
The show takes place in front of Troy's house and in the surrounding yard. John Grimsley's set is realistic, and construction of a fence onstage becomes an important part of the narrative as Troy and Cory work together. Their relationship is central to the show's tension. When it comes to sports, Troy has been denied opportunities, and he refuses to allow Cory to pursue football. The scenes between Williams and Felix are dynamic as Cory fights to become his own person. Felix transforms from a quiet boy into a confident man.
The strong production is full of impressive performances and builds on the theater's commitment to Wilson's legacy.