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Fences as good as theatre gets
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Fences as good as theatre gets

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

Fences
Seattle Repertory Theatre
Through April 18


As the lights rise on the scrappy, rundown (but beautiful) set of William Bloodgood, with hard-packed ground giving way to scrawny patches of grass, you know you're not in downtown Seattle anymore. The cadence of inner-city black "dialect" fills the stage, as Troy Maxson (James A. Williams) and Bono (William Hall, Jr.) drink a pint together and talk smack about women and sex at the end of the work week. You're not at the Seattle Rep anymore; you're somewhere in Wilson-land.

August Wilson's Fences isn't made up of "action" and "events." It's rooted in time and place and in the experiences of the family, and creeps under your skin like an insistent bass rhythm, mimicking the sound of your heart. While details of the "black experience" in the 1950s abound and the challenges of discrimination are abundant, the universal struggle of mother and father, husband and wife are still there for all to identify with.

Troy has succeeded in life and has risen from an improbable series of hardships to become a breadwinner, homeowner, father, and loving husband. He tells of hating his father and escaping from home at age 13 after an enormous beating, graduating to becoming a thief and killing a man, and going to the penitentiary, yet he manages to turn his life around and find a good woman and a job as a garbage man. But even with a fine wife like Rose (Kim Staunton) and a smart, achieving son like Cory (Stephen Tyrone Williams, no relation), there is a bitterness he can't get rid of which keeps him a little restless.

As played by the growling, powerful, barrel-chested Williams, Troy is free with his love for his woman - and even his best friend - yet can't find that same ease to talk to his needy son. He describes his hate of his evil father, but doesn't see the correlations in his own treatment of his sons. He seems to believe that his son should see the evidence of his feelings because he has done his duty and provided for him every day. He semi-humorously declares that the rules don't say he has to "like" his son, but never adds that, like him or not, he loves him.

Staunton (as Rose) starts off a little shrill, but becomes the steady and supportive wife Rose demands of herself. Wilson writes the tragedy of adultery into their marriage, but allows Rose to reclaim her strength and independence by announcing her choices: to stay in the marriage, stick by her husband, and raise his love child as her own. Rose surmounts victimhood with eyes wide open.

The rest of the cast is outstanding, with strong emotional performances from S.T. Williams as Cory, Jose A. Rufino as Troy's older ne'er-do-well son Lyons, Craig Alan Edwards as Troy's brother, and the adorable Shiann Rush as the love child. Hall, Jr. does an exquisite turn as the best friend.

Tim Bond, having moved on from years of helming the now-gone Group Theatre, brings back his directing prowess, co-producing Fences with Syracuse Stage, where the play will move on to. He's given Seattle another gift to remember.

When theater is a great experience, it's as good as it gets, and this is as good as it gets. Any tiny flaws melt and are swept away in the grandeur of the words and emotions, and all you're left with is awe. For more information, go to www.seattlerep.org or call 206-443-2222

Comments on reviews go to sgncritic@gmail.com.

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