An impressive production of August Wilson's powerful Pulitzer Prize winning drama "Fences" is currently on stage at the Spotlighters Theatre.
Universal in its theme of family conflicts, the story centers on Troy Maxson, a defensive, blustering spoiler of dreams, house rascal and trashman by trade. A diminished star of the Negro leagues he thinks of life and mortality in symbolic baseball terminology.
Yet Troy is a tragic figure, not unlikable, and bigger than life in his inverted cosmic vision of the world. He is a philosopher with principles but he cannot separate his principles from his prejudices. Refusing to recognize that times and circumstances have changed, he stubbornly imposes his rigid ties with the past on those close to him.
Abused and unloved by his own father, Troy does not allow himself to love his own son and enforces a too-strict discipline on his household. A product of his own tough battle to survive in the white world he kills his son's only opportunity to attend college on a football scholarship.
Directed with insight and sensitivity by Timothy Crawford, the play, set in the '50s, is part (and, perhaps, the greatest) of a series of 10 proposed works by Wilson chronicling the black experience in America.
Kenneth F. Hoke Witherspoon plays Troy. A local playwright with very little acting experience, Witherspoon (who stepped into the role with only eight days notice before the show opened) gives a surprisingly convincing performance.
Edward Smith Jr. as Troy's former jailbird friend, Rohn Luckett as Troy's musician son by his first marriage and Daniel Gray as Troy's mistreated second son are all excellent.
Kay Merrill is certainly believable as Troy's feisty wife but her interpretation is a bit too low key.
Jenica Braxton, although slightly too old for the youngster of 7 years she is portraying, gives a very sweet performance.
The brilliant local actor, Darrell Taylor, plays Troy's brother Gabriel, a man who had half his head blown off in World War II. An actor of great depth and concentration, Taylor is superb in this heartbreaking role.
"Fences" continues at the Spotlighters Theatre through April 28.
The Harbour Theatre of Lutherville is offering (as their last production in the York Road space) an outstanding version of the Howard Ashman and Alan Menken musical comedy, "Little Shop of Horrors" through May 4.
Based on the camp film by Roger Corman, this bouncy little show tells the story of a poor Skid Row florist who attains fame and fortune with a bloodsucking plant from outer space.
The very talented cast turns in hilarious performances. They all sing and prance around the stage well thanks to the fine direction and choreography of Jeffrey M. Heller.
David Hagerman is the perfect nerd, Seymour, who succumbs to the plant's screams for blood. Rodney Bonds is delightful as the greedy florist shop owner, Mushnik. Amy Bryden is a poignant Audrey plaintively longing for "somewhere that's green." Rick Hammontree is a riot as a sadistic dentist (and a variety of other roles) and Michael P. Hoffmaster is wonderfully evil as the voice of the man-eating plant, Audrey II.
Toni Richards, Maria M. Cochran and Karen Marsh make up the very entertaining vocal trio. Regi Davis conducts the lively orchestra with musicians Rich Kellerman, Torro Gambale and Barry Warsaw. Andrew Karsseboom and Allison Rosen are the plant manipulators.
Worth mentioning . . .
The Open Circle Theatre Company's production of Athol Fugard's gripping drama "Master Harold . . . and the boys" concluded a two week run last week in the new Mildred Dunnock Theatre at Goucher College.
The play was effectively directed by Jean Wilheim (except for some very stagnant blocking). Miles Dinsmoor gave a fine performance as a young white South African man torn between his loyalty to a black friend and his love for his bigoted father.
Robert Bull was convincing (if a little too laid back) as the black friend and Jonathan D. Jackson offered an endearing performance as the other friend, the childlike Willie.