Theater Review: August Wilson remembered—Fences plays at Chicago’s Court Theatre

No greater memorial can be given to August Wilson than the mounting of his Tony-winning play, Fences. The completion of his 10-play cycle telling the story of the African-American experience in the 20th century in 2005, shortly before his death, is a realization of his dream. Nine of his works are set in Pittsburgh. Based on personal experience, his genius in creating characters makes us become a part of his past. Every note ever made on a scrap of paper was written and rewritten until it became a part of the whole. Cutting a scene was never easy, but the three hours spent in the theater witnessing the final result gave a new dimension to our understanding of a wider world.

Ron OJ Parson directs an unsurpassed cast. A.C. Smith is the irascible Troy Maxson, working for the city of Pittsburgh as garbage collector in the 1950s. Today, we would describe his job as one in “waste management.” His wife, Rose, played by Jacqueline Williams, strives to be the good woman we all were in the ’50s. Their son, Cory (Anthony Fleming III), wants only to please his father, but their differing ideas bring constant conflict. Troy fears for his son’s future, feeling a good job is the only answer, while Cory sees college as a goal. The anger erupts, and an insurmountable schism makes their lives almost intolerable.

John Steven Crowley as Jim Bono, Troy’s friend; Rolando A. Boyce as Troy’s son Lyons; Victor J. Cole as Troy’s brother, Gabriel; and Tori Chambrey Boyce as Raynell, Troy’s daughter, complete the cast. They are so visually memorable that every detail of their performances remains clear long after the final scene. Only Williams has performed previously at Court. The rest are newcomers, and after opening, their enthusiasm resonated in the lobby. Playing to a completely sold-out house, they realized that they had achieved perfection.

Having seen Fences in New York with James Earl Jones as Troy, we knew it was destined for fame. The impact of the set created by Jack Magaw brought back that memory. The humble brick dwellings, the ice box on the porch, and Troy’s efforts to build that fence were all there. Not a detail was missing. Court is a small theater, seating only 250 patrons, and the intensity of the production makes us feel we are actually a part of the action.

This is a short run. Closing Feb. 12, tickets will be scarce. Court Theatre is at 5535 Ellis Ave. on the University of Chicago campus. Call (773) 753-4472 or online at

My year is beginning on a high note. Two spectacular productions in as many weeks. Every day, my appreciation for the arts continues…so many plays, films, concerts, dance performances…and my list of books increases constantly. The richness we share makes life a joy.

From the Feb. 8-14, 2006, issue

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