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Pure Life Theatre is currently presenting Fences, an award-winning play written by August Wilson that tells the story of a melanated American household in 1957 Pittsburgh and its passionate and bitter patriarch, Troy Maxson.
The story of Maxson (Thomasi McDonald) is a powerful one. He is a former star of the Negro baseball leagues, but now works as a garbage man. A family-oriented man of his word, he takes the good with the bad and doesn't expect anything less than sophistication. However, Cory (Jay Randall), his son, perceives Troy differently and challenges his authority often. Cory is a full-time student-athlete who also happens to work locally, but soon news gets to Troy that Cory is no longer employed because he wants to have a career as a football player. When Troy learns that Cory has the opportunity for recruitment, he declines it at once, refusing to offer his signature for Cory to accept the position. Tension boils between the two as Cory learns how to navigate his home and school life.
Meanwhile, Gabe (Vincent Drayton), Troy's scatterbrained brother, has been arrested on the account of disturbing the peace, and his oldest son, Lyons (Benaiah Adesoji), only returns to borrow money – Troy must assess these situations accordingly. As the story continues, we learn that Troy, aside from the many traits that make him a great man, is quite scandalous himself. Cory gets a taste of what it's like to exercise his pride after Troy and his wife Rose (Connie Lea) get into an argument about Troy's choices. He’s been stepping out for six months to be with another woman, who ends up bearing his child. Unfortunately, as the story progresses, we learn that the child's mother passes during birth and so the child will grow to have no mother. Troy makes this fact known to Rose and Rose, being the humble and nurturing mother and supporter that she is, has accepted to care for the child as her own, but refuses to care for Troy and thus declares him a womanless man. The story goes on for Rose to raise Raynell (Mia Burton), Troy’s youngest child, when we learn that Troy, in all his stubbornness, has died. Cory, after returning home from the army, tells his mother about his decision to pass up attending his father's impending funeral. But, after a trip down memory lane singing with his little sister about the old dog Blue that their father used to sing about, Cory finds the courage to attend his father's funeral.
The cast performed well as each individual character had their own dynamics but not once did one overshadow another, which takes a community effort of listening, participating, executing and receiving. Cast bios can be accessed HERE.
While this story has been performed many times and in many ways, this cast made each moment unique. The intimacy of the black box theater where this piece was performed impacted the drama in addition to the already rich dialogue. Director Jamal Faraar has used the elements of the space strategically, preparing the cast to move seamlessly in a limited space. Faraar's usage of the space translating so well into performance can be attributed to set designer Deb Royals-Mizerk, who executed her design with precision. Every set element served two purposes: functionality and aesthetics. Aesthetically, the set met every mark. From the relatively accurate dimensions of the front of the family's home, to the ridged tin atop the roof signifying the poverty level of the family, to the mesh screen door, and even a clothing line indicating the era of the story, everything was cohesive.
None of these examples would be effective without lights to view them. The lighting design made space for the audience to sit comfortably in the dramatic moments while not robbing the theatre of the tension that the actors developed through their characters' dialogue. Farrar highlighted the most pivotal moments of the production through design. Using elements like lighting, staging, costuming, and even prop placement, Farrar direction anchored the audience in a way that texturized the story with context. A spotlight goes far, but a centerstage spotlight queued at the height of theatrical conflict goes even further. Faraar found optimal ways to accentuate key moments without exploiting them to the point of exhaustion.
Additionally, this whopping, nearly-three-hour piece was well sustained. The stamina of the cast was substantial as they embraced the storytelling power of theatre for such an extended time. The chemistry between actors fused with character development and made for fluid conversations, thus embodying the epitome of storytelling. Cast members excelled in several facets: Thomasi McDonald's stellar diction as Troy, Connie Lea’s pacing as Rose, Jay Randall’s dramatic tension as Cory, Vincent Drayton’s ability to command the stage as Gabe, Benaiah Adesoji’s persistence as Lyons, and Ajani Kambón’s compassion as Jim Bono. And certainly not least, as Raynell, Mia Burton's refreshing innocence came through in her character and brought the family together to experience unity through trial. It was clear that this production was a community effort full of backstage support and awareness.
This is one you won't want to miss. Please get down to William Peace University to experience this piece. They're waiting for you!
Fences continues through Sunday, August 28. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.