Talented cast in 'Fences' at Colonial

January 22, 1993|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,Contributing Writer

Like so many contemporary plays, August Wilson's "Fences" is short on poetry and long on heavy-handed metaphor. It bristles with emotion, then bristles, bristles and bristles some more until something that looks and sounds like closure occurs and the lights come up.

Yet this sprawling story of Troy Maxson, an embittered ball player from the old Negro Leagues, packs a tremendous wallop when a talented cast gets ahold of it, which assuredly is the case at the Colonial Players of Annapolis, where "Fences" is in production.

Troy is one of those characters who knows little peace, so at war is he with his life. Simultaneously he fights the memory of his abusive father, the realization of his own mortality, and the bitterness of having lost a career snatched away because of his color. Toughest of all, he must fight the mundaneness of a life he can't fence in or out.

His faithful wife, Rose, has provided stability, but the restlessness will not cease. The two sons he has kept on the periphery of his life are of no help to him when the emotional chips are down. He is a man who's hit safely, but can't seem to advance.

"I've stayed on first base for 18 years waiting for the boys to knock me in," he tells Rose. "It didn't happen."

His attempt to break out of mid-life crisis -- a chance to finally "steal second," he calls it -- is gut-wrenching to behold. But, in the long run, a healing of sorts is achieved and the bases are finally cleared, thanks to Rose's capacity to love.

Richard Jackson is a bold, intense Troy Maxson who holds the Colonial Players stage as commandingly as anyone. His posturing is wonderful: "Death ain't nothin' but a fast ball on the outside corner," he crows. "And you know what I do with those."

Jackson pulls no punches; his character faces himself with an unrelenting honesty that allows us to deplore his actions while retaining respect for the man we sense inside.

Vivian Gist delivers a Rose of subtlety and depth. She plays her close to the vest early on; as she completes her routine chores not much seems to be happening within. But there's no mistaking her substance when the challenges mount in Act II.

"You a womanless man, Troy," she spits when betrayed. But hers is the gift of understanding and it elevates not only her family, but the audience as well.

Supporting actors don't come any more supportive than James Washington, who was truly exceptional as Mr. Bono, Troy's appropriately named friend and colleague.

Will Rowel and Elliot Hills also were excellent as the pair of sons and Wayne Harris was a bundle of discomfiting energy as Gabriel, the emotionally disabled war veteran who puts Troy in touch with his own mortality.

Congratulations are also in order for lovely young LaToya Kess who acts very professionally indeed as Raynell.

The play itself may cause the viewer some problems, but the cast swings for the fences and, more often than not, connects.

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