ABOUT THE PLAY
Fences is the third of 10 plays (The American Century Cycle) August Wilson penned to dramatize the black experiences in the United States with each play representing each decade of the 20th century. It won the 1987 Tony Award for Best Play and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in the same year. Set in 1950s Pittsburgh, Fences centers on Troy Maxson, a trash collector and former baseball hero in the Negro League, whose inner conflicts take their toll on his relationships with his wife, children, and friends as they look to their own chances to fulfill their dreams. Wilson’s most renowned work, Fences was developed at the National Playwrights Conference in 1983 premiering at the Yale Repertory Theatre in 1985. It played on Broadway in 1987 featuring James Earl Jones as Troy Maxson. In addition to the Tony for Best Play, it also won Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play, Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play, Best Featured Actor in a Play, and Best Direction of a Play. It also won Drama Desk Awards for Outstanding New Play, Outstanding Actor in a Play, and Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play. A revival in 2010 featured Denzel Washington as Troy Maxson and Viola Davis as Rose. It was nominated for ten Tony Awards wining Best Revival of a Play, Best Actor in a Play, and Best Actress in a Play. A film adaptation directed by Denzel Washington in which he also starred with Viola Davis, reprising their roles from the Broadway production, was released last year. It was nominated for four Oscars: Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay. Davis won for her performance. Washington and Davis also received Golden Globe nominations for their performances.
Timothy Bond, who has directed seven of Wilson’s Century Cycle plays, said he is honored to be directing the first August Wilson play in PCPA’s history, “Mr. Wilson is considered by many to be the American Shakespeare. His ‘American Century Cycle’ exploring the heritage and experience of African Americans, decade by decade, over the course of the 20th Century, is one of the monumental feats in the history of theatre. The design team’s focus has been about capturing the gritty truth and poetic blues-scape of the Maxson Family household which consists of an ancient two-story brick house in a dirt yard in the hill district of Pittsburgh in 1957. I am very excited about our stellar cast led by the amazing Derrick Lee Weeden and Karole Foreman as the unforgettable characters of Troy and Rose Maxson. The contagious humor, brilliant storytelling, powerful dialogue and soulful songs make Fences an unforgettable American Classic.”
Bond said there is much in this story he can personally relate to. Like the character Troy Maxson, Bond believed he would eventually play professional baseball until suffering an injustice and an injury that extinguished his dream. Beyond that he said, “It is significant to me to be telling this story in the Post-Obama Era in America, when many people in this nation are reawakening to the reality that there is still much work to be done to equal the playing field for people of color and women. As a person of color I have also faced racial discrimination in a number of ways throughout my life and live with those scars. I believe that by exploring African-American perspectives and culture, and examining America’s legacy of racial discrimination all Americans have a chance to holistically proceed into the future.”
This play uses many metaphors for the fence Troy Maxson is building. Timothy Bond continues, “We learn that a psychological fence went up around Troy after his father severely beat him and chased him off when he was only 14 years old. We also learn that Troy was an extraordinary Negro League baseball player, a home run slugger who hit balls 450 feet over fences. But when he is denied playing in the Major Leagues due to the color of his skin, this erects a devastating fence of injustice that mars his ability to see the few positive changes happening around him. Troy, scarred by racism and by the cycle of abuse from his father, seems doomed to repeat this pattern with his family. The cycle of dysfunction and separation seems like it will destroy the Maxson family and all of Troy’s relationships.”
Troy Maxson, like many black men of his era, fled north to escape the horrible sharecropping conditions in the South. He lived in shacks, resorted to stealing, and spent some 15 years in jail for killing a man he tried to rob who shot him before Troy killed him with a knife. He became a talented baseball player in the Negro Leagues, but was overlooked by the major leagues because of his age - just as they began to accept Negroes. Troy is now picking up garbage and is pushing his boss to allow blacks to drive the garbage trucks. His friend and payday drinking buddy, Bono, thinks Troy has been cheating on his wife, Rose. Troy’s son Cory is being recruited by a college football team which Troy is convinced will lead nowhere based on his own experience with discrimination. Cory breaks the news to Troy that he’s quit his job at the A&P so he can play football after school which does not sit well with Troy. Rose reminds Troy about the fence she wants built.
Troy’s brother Gabriel suffered a brain injury in the war. He carries an old trumpet on a string tied around his waist. Gabriel has moved out of the Maxson house and into a boarding house. It was his compensation check from the government that went to buy the Maxson house and his monthly stipend has been going toward the mortgage.
Later in the day, Cory and Troy are working on the fence and the discussion turns to the football recruiter. Troy is convinced the white men will never let his son get ahead in sports and that he needs to get his job back and learn a skill, and then defiantly assures Cory that he’ll never sign the permission paper Cory needs to get the football scholarship. Cory asks why Troy doesn’t like him which sets Troy off explaining a father’s duty is to provide for his son and liking him has nothing to do with it. Rose tries to convince Troy to let their son play football reminding Troy he was too old for the major leagues and he should recognize that the world has changed.
A couple weeks have passed and Troy has successfully broken through the color barrier at work and is now allowed to drive the trash truck. Troy starts reminiscing about the horrible conditions as a youth and the brutal abuse he endured from his father and how he walked 200 miles to escape that environment. When he arrived in Pittsburgh he couldn’t find a job and survived by stealing food and then money. He admits that the time he spent in jail cured him from wanting to rob people.
Troy learns that Cory has been lying and hasn’t kept his job with the A&P. Cory has come in upset because he’s learned that Troy has told the coach that Cory can’t play football anymore and told him to call off the college recruiter. His disrespect earns him “strike one.”
Another day, Troy and Bono are in the backyard talking and Bono is concerned with Troy’s growing attention to Alberta and he doesn’t want Troy to wreck his 18 year marriage with Rose. But a short while later Troy is admitting to his affair to Rose, and that Alberta is pregnant. Rose can’t believe what she’s hearing as Troy tries to justify his affair. Rose tries to leave but in a rage Troy grabs her arm as Cory enters and fights with Troy. Troy restrains himself from seriously hurting Cory and proclaims, “that’s strike two.”
Six months later, Troy is leaving the house as Rose informs him that Gabriel has been committed to a mental hospital and accuses Troy of selling his brother out by signing the commitment papers to get a part of his government check. Things go from bad to worse when he hears that Alberta died during child birth, though the baby is healthy. Rose agrees to help care for the baby they’ve named Raynell, but from now on, she refuses to accept Troy back into her life.
Seven years later the family is preparing for Troy’s funeral. Gabriel attempts to blow his trumpet before “the gates of heaven stand open as wide as God’s closet.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
AUGUST WILSON (April 27, 1945 – October 2, 2005) authored Gem of the Ocean, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, The Piano Lesson, Seven Guitars, Fences, Two Trains Running, Jitney, King Hedley II, and Radio Golf. These works explore the heritage and experience of African-Americans, decade-by-decade, over the course of the twentieth century. His plays have been produced at regional theaters across the country and all over the world, as well as on Broadway.
In 2003, Mr. Wilson made his professional stage debut in his one-man show, How I Learned What I Learned. Mr. Wilson’s works garnered many awards including Pulitzer Prizes for Fences (1987); and for The Piano Lesson (1990); a Tony Award for Fences; Great Britain’s Olivier Award for Jitney; as well as eight New York Drama Critics Circle Awards for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Fences, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, The Piano Lesson, Two Trains Running, Seven Guitars, Jitney, and Radio Golf. Additionally, the cast recording of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom received a 1985 Grammy Award, and Mr. Wilson received a 1995 Emmy Award nomination for his screenplay adaptation of The Piano Lesson.
Mr. Wilson’s early works included the one-act plays The Janitor, Recycle, The Coldest Day of the Year, Malcolm X, The Homecoming, and the musical satire Black Bart and the Sacred Hills. Mr. Wilson received many fellowships and awards, including Rockefeller and Guggenheim Fellowships in Playwriting, the Whiting Writers Award, and the 2003 Heinz Award, was awarded a 1999 National Humanities Medal by the President of the United States, and received numerous honorary degrees from colleges and universities, as well as the only high school diploma ever issued by the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. He was an alumnus of New Dramatists, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a 1995 inductee into the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and on October 16, 2005, Broadway renamed the theater located at 245 West 52nd Street – The August Wilson Theatre. Additionally, Mr. Wilson was posthumously inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame in 2007.
Mr. Wilson was born and raised in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and lived in Seattle, Washington at the time of his death. He is immediately survived by his two daughters, Sakina Ansari and Azula Carmen Wilson, and his wife, costume designer Constanza Romero.