Powerful Performances at The Pollard with “Fences”
The Pollard Theatre in Guthrie is presenting August Wilson’s award winning “Fences” under the skillful leadership of director Akin Babatunde. Babatunde, a Brooklyn native, comes to us from Dallas, after bringing to Texas a significant talent that touches virtually every Dallas theatre. And now, Mr. Babatunde has brought his director’s touch to Oklahoma to direct “Fences” for Guthrie’s Pollard Theatre Company.
The story revolves around Troy Maxson, a black man born just before the turn of the previous century. In the 1950’s the obstacles for a black family to overcome were considerable, and in the arena of sports, it is too late for Troy Maxson. But Jackie Robinson has made a breakthrough and it is not too late for Troy’s son, Cory. Troy is unable to recognize his son may have real opportunities so he refuses to allow Cory to play football. Rose Maxson is the patient, pleasant woman straddling the conflict between father and son. Lyons is Troy’s oldest son from an earlier marriage. He is an adult, but also a frequent moocher. Troy also has responsibilities for his younger brother, Gabriel. Suffering severe head trauma during the war, Gabriel never recovered and Troy has been handling his living arrangements and, apparently, his finances. Jim Bono is Troy’s best friend and fellow garbage collector. The balanced advice he provides could be helpful, but Troy stubbornly ignores opinions from others. Troy also has a daughter Raynell. She is to be raised by Rose, who will love her as her own daughter.
Although the obstacle of discrimination is unique to the black race, we can see this family suffer from the same self-inflicted blocks we all build. The hardest obstacle we have to overcome is the one we have erected ourselves. This becomes very apparent in W. Jerome Stevenson’s portrayal of Troy Maxson. Stevenson is Pollard’s artistic director and he often directs the productions. On the occasions he also performs, it is a treat. We see him appreciate and cherish the support of his wife and we see him throw it away. The performance of Stevenson is beautifully complimented by Bethanie James. The most important part of the exchange is in the eyes, and these eyes have expressed it with focus, clarity and love.
Brian C. Scott’s portrayal of Jim Bono reveals an understanding that is unique to man to man friendship. Little is spoken, a great deal is understood; unfortunately what is important is not accepted. Zakee King is Lyons, the 34-year old son. He is a musician more interested in artistic expression than work initiative. One can see the determination to continue in King in spite of the derision Stevenson’s character makes abundantly clear. Roderick Porter is Gabriel and he deftly handles his portrayal of a disabled veteran, challenged by life, but able to be happy when happiness can be grasped, or picked as the rose he offers Rose with love and respect.
The most challenging obstacle Troy Maxson has is to allow his son the option of succeeding where he could not. Chris Shepard plays Cory with the courage to match his father’s stubborn streak. The two of them create a dynamic that really makes “Fences” a universal story. Because every parent fails at something and no child can succeed at everything, we see ourselves through the performances of Stevenson and Shepard alongside all their friends and family. Folks who are willing to sacrifice for each other, even when their sacrifices are overlooked.
Honey Scott is Raynell, and she is the future. In her Troy could find redemption. With Raynell, Rose can still love the best of Troy Maxson. A tall order for a little girl, but Scott carries the role gracefully. Her talent may also carry her to many future performances.
Babatunde put together an excellent crew providing the ambiance of a typical black neighborhood in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; a little run-down perhaps, but spotless, well organized and full of love. The new fence is a project for father and son and symbolic as a reflection of their relationship. The fence also has meaning for Rose and it is comforting to believe the fence will one day be completed.
The Pollard Theatre is located in historic downtown Guthrie at 120 West Harrison Avenue. For information about schedules and tickets please call the Box Office at 405-282-2800 or visit the website at www.thepollard.org. Curtain rises at 8:00 pm and there is plenty of parking in the area, as well as some nice restaurants down the street. “Fences” plays through March 4, 2017 and is a great addition to the Pollard’s 30th season.