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  • Writer's pictureAlex First

Fences (STC) at Wharf 1 Theatre - 160 minutes, including a 20-minute interval

We’re among African Americans in a working-class suburb in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the 1950s.

Although affable when it suits him, Troy Maxon (Bert Labonte) can be a hard man to stomach.

A garbage collector, he has a “my way or the highway approach” and sometimes the choices he makes are decidedly ordinary.

His upbringing was far from desirable. He turned out to be a far better than average baseball player, but he never made it to the big league.

Photos by Daniel Boud

Troy has a son in his mid-thirties, Lyons (Damon Manns), who is always short of money.

As a wannabe professional musician, Lyons doesn’t want a regular job and that

hardly pleases his father.

Now with his second wife, Rose (Zahra Newman), whom he married 18 years ago, the pair has a teenage son, Cory (Darius Williams).

Although Cory shows a great deal of promise as a baseballer, who a recruiter is looking at, Troy is dead set against that path for him.

Clashes between father and son are inevitable.

Troy also has a brother, Gabriel (Dorian Nkono), who suffered brain damage on the battlefield during WWII.

And then there is Tory’s best mate and fellow garbo Jim Bono (Markus Hamilton).

Jim sees the good in Troy and has learnt from him, although the former is also witness to something he can’t countenance.

Fences is a deeply affecting character study, reflecting love, injustice, heartbreak and anger.

It won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for playwright August Wilson and was turned in a Hollywood movie in 2016, directed by and starring Denzel Washington.

Viola Davis won an Oscar for her performance in the film.

Washington was nominated for Best Actor and Best Picture, while August Wilson was posthumously nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay.

STC has pulled out all stops to put on a sensational production of the work.

The performances are rich and detailed, the production values are exemplary.

Many words are spoken and much of the heavy lifting is left to Bert Labonte in the lead. In a tour de force performance, he doesn’t miss a beat.

He is instantly impactful and carries his character’s intensity throughout the piece.

Most noticeable is the nuance that he conveys as Troy, whose past has definitively shaped him.

Zahra Newman brings warmth and maturity to her role as Rose, who is willing to put up with a great deal at the cost of subjugating her own needs.

Dorian Nkono is unforgettable as the mentally challenged brother whose situation has impacted Troy’s circumstances.

Darius Williams has an increasingly significant presence as the narrative unfolds and he is emboldened.

Markus Hamilton impresses as Troy’s mate, who all but encourages Troy’s “trash talk”, his hyped-up storytelling, while maintaining a strong moral compass.

As Lyons, Damon Manns maintains the good nature of the persona he inhabits, refusing to be goaded by his father.

Two young actors – Liannah Nandi Sibanda and Molly Moriarty – are alternates who appear late and help shift the dynamic.

The night I saw Fences, it was Liannah who drew approval from the audience for her portrayal of a character that affects those around her.

I can’t speak more highly of set designer Jeremy Allen, who has crafted a large and impressively detailed home setting for Fences.

The lighting design by Verity Hampson is important in signaling the different times of the day in which the play is set.

Brendon Boney’s sound design reflects the many highs and lows in the production.

Fine direction from Shari Sebbens sees Fences as triumphant and compelling theatre of the highest order, which I greatly appreciated.

Two hours 40 minutes, including a 20-minute interview, it is on at Wharf 1 Theatre until 6th May, 2023.


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