.Wobbly ‘Fences’: Wilson classic at 6th Street

Pivotal is a description often applied to August Wilson’s 1985 play, Fences. It’s the third play written, but chronologically sixth in Wilson’s famed “Pittsburgh (or Century) Cycle”—10 plays that span across decades to document African American experiences in the 20th century. Santa Rosa’s 6th Street Playhouse has a production running through Feb. 4.

It’s considered pivotal because showing POC without the white gaze is sadly—and unsurprisingly—new in American theater. The concept of the global majority’s importance without white society’s validation is so new that we Chicanos didn’t have a theatrical presence until 1965, the first AAPI play wasn’t performed on Broadway until 1972 and Fences originally premiered only four days before director Jourdán Olivier-Verdé was born.

Troy Maxson (Keene Hudson) is a former Negro League player turned garbage man whose troubled relationships, strained parenting and lack of self-awareness often bring comparisons to Death of a Salesman’s Willy Loman. Like Loman, Maxson’s world is changing in post-WWII America. And like Salesman, Fences hinges on an empathetically-nuanced playing of the lead character to elevate him from a delusional bully into someone for whom an audience can root.

Hudson never achieves that elevation because he doesn’t know his lines to the point of needing an obvious earpiece to enable the play to progress. This level of unprofessionalism is astounding and disappointing.

But, as Rose Maxson (Val Sinckler) tells us, “You can’t visit the sins of the father upon the child.” Indeed, Sinckler’s Rose is a powerhouse of self-possession.

Similarly, Mark Anthony’s Cory is heartbreakingly truthful as the distraught son seeking validation from a distant father.

As for the rest of the cast, De’Sean Moore’s portrayal of older son Lyons is charming but needs more gravitas. Nicholas Augusta gives a mature, almost sweet portrayal as Troy’s best friend, Jim Bono. Young Eden Kuteesa Oland (sharing the role of Raynell with Nadia Hill) is delightful, and Jim Frankie Banks’ performance as Troy’s younger brother, Gabriel, is simply beautiful.

Aissa Simbulan’s set is an excellent example of how to do intricate realism on a small stage. Aja Gianola-Norris presents beautiful mid-century costuming (even if Sinckler forgot to remove her anachronistic eyebrow piercing), and Ben Root’s sound design celebrates the intertwining of music and Black culture.

Fences is a compelling and important play. It’s unfortunate that, in this case, the sins of the father marred what could have been a fantastic production. Let’s hope that, in time, Hudson can rise to the level of the others.

‘Fences’ runs through Feb. 4 on the Monroe Stage at 6th Street Playhouse, 52 W. 6th Street, Santa Rosa. Thurs-Sat., 7:30pm; Sat-Sun, 2pm. $29-$45. 707.523.4185. 6thstreeetplayhouse.com.


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