Someone asked me recently if I enjoy writing theatre reviews.
“When the magic happens, I love it,” I responded.
August Wilson’s “Fences,” starring Fracaswell Hyman, at the Cape Fear Playhouse on Castle Street, answers the questions perfectly. Live theatre continues to captivate and fascinate because it presents an opportunity for something beyond entertainment—a moment when audiences feel their souls touched and changed by a shared experience. Contributing to this is August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning script, which truly is stunning. Yet, it is also intimidating, and in the wrong hands could easily turn into a parody rather than allegory.
Gwenyfar Rohler is blown away by the acting of Fracaswell “Cas” Hyman in Big Dawg Productions’ “Fences,” now showing over the next two weekends. Courtesy photo
Wilson wrote a cycle of 10 plays to chronicle the African-American experience in the 20th century. The shows center in and around Pittsburgh (except the last, which takes place in Chicago). He uses a microcosm to explore issues of the century and changes it has wrought.
Scott Davis has created a hyper-realistic set for the yard of the Maxson family home: a tree with a rag to practice batting, a brick façade and porch, and lean-to shed for storing the tools needed to build a fence around the property. Complete with a clothesline and a couple of benches for sitting, it looks move-in ready—certainly a home that someone loves.
Indeed both Troy Maxson (Fracaswell Hyman) and his wife, Rose (Angela C. Gray), have lavished tremendous effort and resources to carve out a little corner of the world for their family. Rose is a homemaker and takes her job very seriously. Part of her job is to be an audience for her husband, Troy. Troy has a huge personality, and takes up every inch of space in the house and in their lives. He is expansive, a raconteur, and he needs adulation. As an African-American man working as a garbage collector in the 1950s, the only place he can receive respect and admiration for his accomplishments is at home—and he expects it in abundance to make up for the grueling degradation he goes through each day when he leaves the house in an effort to put food on the table.
Jim Bono (Maxwell Paige) is Troy’s oldest friend, and shares his daily experiences and hauls other people’s trash. The men have an easy comfort of long-standing friendship, of shared hardship and of mutual affection. Paige’s Bono is a quiet, thoughtful man who looks up to his friend, but worries his pride might be his downfall. Each appraising glance, each careful study of his feet, while he tries to make sense of Troy’s latest scheme, and the subsequent battle that moves across Paige’s face is a portrait of a performance of great depth and subtlety.
Now in his late ‘50s Troy has been around long enough to have fathered two sons (that he knows of): Lyons (Benjamin P. Hart), a some-time musician now in his 30s; and Cory (Damecco Mahatha), a rising high-school football star. As if Troy’s life wasn’t complicated enough, he has the struggles of putting up with a teenager. Cory, the younger generation, has very different ideas about the world and his future than his father does. It’s is an old story and has played out in every household in the world to some degree.
Hyman’s Troy is a complex person. Part of him knows, for all the love Rose has showered on Cory, the world is going to knock him down and try to destroy him when he gets out there. A good job, a high-school diploma and thick skin are the things he can arm Cory with before he leaves the house. It is far more than Troy had when he was thrust, unprepared and unsuspecting, upon the world. The good Lord willing, it might be enough to keep Cory out of jail and away from the mistakes Troy made.
One of the mistakes was believing sports could take him somewhere better than where has wound up. That disappointment, that pain is what he wants to shield Cory from enduring. Also—though he won’t admit it to himself— part of him is jealous Cory is finding success in a world Troy should have achieved in. He does want better for his son than hauling garbage, but he also wants his son to look up to him. Expecting appreciation from a teenager is a lost cause; it seems like so many things in Troy’s life are.
For many actors, the easy mistake with Troy would be to begin as a bully and from a place of anger. But Hyman does not make that mistake; he gives Troy a full range of human emotion and experience. He is loud, He is a show-off. He needs to blow off steam at the end of the week—who doesn’t? But he also has tenderness, remorse, worry, and lots of romance.
Just ask Rose.
Gray’s Rose genuinely loves Troy, and has worked hard to build a life with him and for him. After almost two decades, they still flirt and carry on, and she worries over him like no one else. Do not make the mistake of thinking Rose is not a person without power of her own. Where Cory is concerned, she will fight to death, if need be, and she has a wide range of tools in her armory.
For all Troy tries to do to toughen up Cory, so he can face an unforgiving world, he has only tenderness and endless patience for his brother, Gabriel (Juan B Fernandez). Gabe has a metal plate in his head from a war injury and it has left him a gentle child who tries to protect people from hellhounds that only he can see—but that doesn’t make them any less frightening. There is a real bond of love between the brothers, and watching Hyman’s face when Gabe comes into give Rose a rose is nothing short of heartbreaking.
Troy Maxson was originated on Broadway by James Earl Jones and immortalized on film by Denzel Washington. It is a role that comes with heavy expectations, and many potential pitfalls. I would put Fracaswell Hyman’s performance up next to either well-known actors without a doubt. He holds is own and gives us an original interpretation that’s palpably real and flawed—he’s a man up against a dealer with a stacked deck. Hyman must be exhausted physically and spiritually by the end of each performance. I certainly was just watching him.
It is interesting the show opened the same weekend as “King Lear” (see review on previous page). The scripts share so many same elements and themes, including a fool who speaks the truth, an ageing patriarch trying to provide for the next generation, and losing a battle with himself, and a family struggling to understand the ways they love each other.
The show is one to remember for years to come. It can take audiences that long just to sort through all the nuances of the performances, easily. That may be the greatest compliment to pay a cast.