by Julie-Kate Cooper*
October 30, 2010, Chapel Hill, NC: PlayMakers Repertory Company, located at UNC-Chapel Hill, has raised the bar with August Wilson’s Fences. Many experienced actors have made their PlayMakers debut with this production, and in doing so, the PlayMakers’ bar has been raised.
As with any play that employs a strong dialect, it takes a few moments to sink into the world of Fences. The thick speech of Charlie Robinson, as Troy, rolls through the theater, and while he may say an offensive word or two, the audience easily warms to him. Robinson takes the audience on the roller coaster of understanding Troy while he strives to justify his actions. With all of Troy’s faults, you can’t help but respect him (if nothing more than for the superb performance Robinson offers).
The actor who plays Bono – Thomasi McDonald – takes full embodiment and tempers the character with skill. Erik LaRay Harvey brings some unexpected comedic relief with his character, Lyons - Troy’s son from his previous marriage. As Gabe, Ray Anthony Thomas brightens the stage with an honest look into his character and his disability. Thomas’s total commitment makes it all the more moving.
Kathryn Hunter-Williams plays Rose, Troy’s wife; she reflects her sweetness. My regrets lie with the choice to reserve Rose’s behavior in order to show her elegance and dignity. Though Rose is graceful and strong, she must also show intense, passionate emotions for the audience to connect with her. Her restricted tone and speech left me wanting more. When Troy reveals to Rose his great secret, Rose must not wait to climax for the sake of technical acting. It should be much more raw. That’s what was missing from Rose: the rawness.
While the audience can work to understand Troy’s complexities, nothing hinders the audience from falling into an intense connection with Cory, Troy’s second son. You simply have to love him. Yaegal Welch’s portrayal of Cory embodied everything in a seventeen year old; his performance was truly inspiring.
I have a hard time looking past the superb writing and the acting to take note of the wonderful technical elements in the piece. My only reservation is with the “combative” elements: a little extra rehearsal would probably have helped – but it’s something that may improve during the run. More than once the stage combat scenes threw me out of the world of Fences because I didn’t believe the actors were reacting honestly.
Days after the performance I am still thinking back to Robinson’s and Welch’s performances. Excellent work is a special find. For this reason, I expect the Paul Green Theater to be continually packed for the run of the show. I suggest making a reservation to ensure your seat. I promise you don’t want to miss this production, which continues through November 14. For details, see our calendar.
I’m afraid this excellent production will only make me expect more of PlayMakers in the future. I truly hope the rest of its season can rise to meet the craft displayed in Fences.
*The author, one of our theatre interns for 2010, is a student at Meredith College.