BOX OFFICE 610.644.3500

Fences

By August Wilson

Directed by Kamilah Forbes

September 10-October 5, 2014

Leonard C. Haas Stage

One of the most beloved plays of the 20th Century, August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning drama revolves around a man of mythic proportions forced to wrestle with the reality of his life. A sanitation worker and onetime Negro League baseball player, Troy Maxson is the heart and heartbreak of this iconic story of dreams denied, fathers and sons, and America’s legacy of racism. August Wilson is “a major writer, combining a poet's ear for vernacular with a robust sense of humor (political and sexual), a sure instinct for crackling dramatic incident and a passionate commitment to a great subject” (The New York Times). Fences is not to be missed.

Approximate run time is 2 hours and 45 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission. This show is best enjoyed by ages 12 and up.

Scoop on Wednesdays: History, Context, and Gossip

People’s Light continues its Scoop program, now on Wednesdays! Join us for a lively discussion before Wednesday 7:30 pm performances. Resident Dramaturg Gina Pisasale will host an artist from the production and get the inside scoop about such things as the rehearsal and production process, design choices, and the world of the play. The program begins at 6:00 in The Farmhouse Bistro on September 17th and October 1st. Cost of $15 includes light fare. Call the Box Office at 610.644.3500.

Dinner & A Show Packages

Enjoy a prix fixe dinner and a show package for $73 (Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday matinee, Sunday evening) and $82 (Friday, Saturday evening, Sunday matinee) at The Farmhouse Bistro prior to the Wed-Sun evening performances. That's a savings of up to 15% off the single ticket price! View the full menu here.Call 610.644.3500 or order online.

Troy Maxson: Michael Genet*
Jim Bono: Brian Anthony Wilson*
Rose: Melanye Finister*
Lyons: Wendell Franklin*
Gabriel: G. Alverez Reid*
Cory: Ruffin Prentiss
Raynell: Cameron Hicks
Director: Kamilah Forbes
Set Design: James F. Pyne, Jr.
Costume Designer: Michael Krass
Lighting Designer: Traci Klainer Polimeni
Production Stage Manager: Marguerite Price*
Sound Designer: Kevin DeYoe
Composer: Amatus
Dramaturg: Gina Pisasale
Line Producer: Zak Berkman


* Member, Actors' Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers.



Explore FENCES


JUMP TO:
Extended Plot Summary
Who's Who
Director Statement
About the Playwright: August Wilson
August Wilson's introduction to Fences
Genesis
Wilson on Troy
Wilson's Pittsburgh Decade Cycle
Historical Context
Production History



EXTENDED PLOT SUMMARY

All of the action of the play takes place in the yard in front of the Maxson household in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, PA, 1957. We learn that Troy, once a renowned baseball player in the Negro Baseball League, is now a garbage man that has just asked his boss why Black employees can’t drive the trash trucks. Embittered but informed by a society that has held back his life’s potential, he prevents his son Cory, a talented athlete, from playing football and blocks his chance at being recruited by a college team. When Cory bucks against Troy’s authority for a third time in the play, Troy throws him out of the house. Meanwhile, Troy has been unfaithful to his wife Rose and brings home his baby daughter, Raynell, after her mother dies in childbirth. Rose agrees to raise Raynell, but abjures her obligations as Troy’s wife.

After joining the Marines, Cory returns 8 years later on the day of Troy’s funeral. At first, he tells Rose that he’s not going to his father’s funeral. But through Rose and Raynell, he begins to come to terms with his relationship with Troy. In the end, Gabriel, Troy’s brother who sustained a brain injury during World War II, believes that it is his job to open the gates of Heaven for Troy with his trumpet. When no sound comes out of his horn, he begins to dance and sing and the gates of heaven stand open.


WHO'S WHO

Troy Maxson
Early 50’s. Legendary Negro League baseball player, now working as a garbage collector. Troy is a story-teller. He is at once jovial and loving and brash and overbearing. A complicated man embittered by the racism he has experienced throughout his life.

Rose Maxson
Mid 40s. Troy’s wife. A strong, supportive woman who is fiercely protective of her husband and son, Cory. A loving presence that counterbalances Troy’s ferocity for life, Rose mothers almost everyone around her. She is a gentle spirit.

Jim Bono
Early 50’s. Troy’s very good friend. The men met while in prison and Bono, as he is known, has stayed with Troy through his legendary days in baseball and today works beside him as a garbage man. Like brothers, the two men love each other deeply.

Cory Maxson
Late teens. Troy and Rose’s son. Cory is a natural athlete like his father, eager to prove himself to the legendary Troy Maxson. He has been playing football, hoping to catch the eyes of college recruiters, offering him the educational opportunities his illiterate father never had.

Lyons
Mid 30’s. Troy’s eldest son from a previous relationship. Lyons is a musician who cannot seem to keep a job. He is full of laughter and uses his charming personality to quell his father’s quick anger. A grown man, he lives with his girlfriend nearby.

Gabriel
Early 40s. Troy’s brother. After being severely injured with a head trauma in World War II, Gabriel is left with a childlike innocence and a deep sense of concern for his older brother. He believes with every fiber in his being that he is the archangel Gabriel.

Raynell
Nine years old. Troy’s daughter and youngest child from another relationship. After Alberta, the woman with whom Troy has had an affair dies in childbirth, Rose takes the baby in, and despite her husband’s infidelity, raises her as her own.


DIRECTOR STATEMENT BY KAMILAH FORBES

What’s really unique to me about a lot of August Wilson is that he has a really beautiful way of painting and honoring Pittsburgh and his hometown. Not just the landscape, where the town is a kind of character, but also the colorful and unique community members within it. And he does it with such honor and such grace and love.

Also, his worlds are always very male centric. As a woman director, what’s always interesting to me is looking at who are those women that circle around his worlds? Even when there are just one or two women, I’m still very interested in them because he always puts them either at pivotal points in the story and critical points in their lives. This is a story about Troy – about dreams deferred, dreams lost, dreams transferred and/or reinterpreted. But I’m really interested in Rose and her story – who she is and how she functions.

What I also love about the world of Fences is this idea of reality and supernatural. Outside of Gem of the Ocean, this is one of the cannon plays where reality and the sort of supernatural or spiritual or ethereal world bump right up against one another in a very real way through Gabe. So I’m really interested in exploring and pushing those boundaries.

I’m excited about this being the second August Wilson play being done at People’s Light. A really smart way to produce Wilson’s cycle is to give it a sense of continuity, so that the previous play is still in the consciousness of the audience. We can begin to draw parallels from the world and era of Seven Guitars into the era of Fences. Time-wise, they’re in direct conversation and relation to each other (Seven Guitars is set in 1948 and Fences is the next in his decade cycle set in 1957), and I’m excited to be a part of that continuation and lineage.

The other thing is that I think that even as a country, what we’re facing now is this idea of expectations. What are we really due? What is true aspiration vs. what is true entitlement? It’s a fine line in a country in which we are sold this idea about the American Dream. So there’s something interesting in a character like Troy in the world of Fences and what happens when lines like that are challenged and crossed.


ABOUT THE PLAYWRIGHT: AUGUST WILSON

Pittsburgh-born playwright August Wilson stands in the Hill District in front of 1727 Bedford Street, the house that was his boyhood home until age 12. His family lived in the apartment in the rear, at far right.Pittsburgh-born playwright August Wilson stands in the Hill District in front of 1727 Bedford Street, the house that was his boyhood home until age 12. His family lived in the apartment in the rear, at far right.

August Wilson (April 27, 1945 – October 2, 2005) was born Frederick August Kittel in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, PA. He was the fourth of six children. His father Frederick Kittel, a German immigrant and baker, was absent during most of Wilson’s childhood. His mother Daisy Wilson Kittel, supported her family as a house cleaner. The family lived in the racially mixed Hill District until August was twelve years old, when the family moved to Hazelwood, another Pittsburgh neighborhood.

During his teenage years, Wilson experienced an increased amount of racism, especially as the only black student at Central Catholic High School. He transferred to Connelly Trade School and then to Gladstone public high school, where he was falsely accused of plagiarizing a term paper on Napoleon. Insulted and angry, Wilson dropped the paper in a wastebasket and dropped out of school. To avoid telling his mother, he still went to the school each day but only to shoot baskets outside of the principal’s office, expecting someone to ask why he wasn’t in class. No one came out and Wilson’s formal education ended when he was 16, much to the disappointment of his mother, now re-married to David Bedford. For the next several years, he spent each day in the Carnegie Library in Oakland. Always a voracious reader, he reads widely including everything on the “Negro Books” self.

In 1962, Wilson enlisted in the U.S. Army was discharged a year later. Wilson then worked as a gardener, porter, sheet metal worker, and short order cook in a coffee shop, which all appear later in his plays. At age 20, determined to become a writer, he bought a typewriter and began writing poetry using the name August Wilson. With a few friends, he started the Centre Avenue Poets Theater Workshop, which sponsored readings and published a small poetry magazine. In 1968, hoping to raise community consciousness, Wilson founded Black Horizon on the Hill, an African American activist theatre company with his friend, playwright, and professor Rob Penny. Mentored by Penny, Wilson began to write his own plays and several one-act plays including Recycle, The Janitor, The Homecoming, and Sizwe Banzi is Dead were produced at Black Horizon and Pittsburgh Public Theatre. In 1970, he adapted one of his dramatic poems, Black Bart and the Sacred Hills into a musical satire. Despite his efforts Wilson was “unimpressed” and admitted that “the dialogue wasn’t good” in these earlier playwriting attempts.

In 1978, Wilson moved to St. Paul, MN and in 1980 he received a fellowship at the Minneapolis Playwrights Center. He worked part time as a cook for the social service organization The Little Brothers of the Poor and wrote Fullerton Street. After several unsuccessful submissions to the Eugene O’Neill Theatre Centre National Playwrights Conference, Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom was accepted for a workshop production in 1982. The play marked the first of many collaborations between Wilson and Lloyd Richards, Artistic Director of the O’Neill Conference and Yale Repertory Theatre. In 1984, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom opened at Yale Rep, ran briefly at the Annenberg Center in Philadelphia, and then moved to Broadway in October. The production won the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award and a Tony Nomination, garnering Wilson national attention. His next Broadway play, Fences, opened in 1987 and was decorated with numerous awards including the Tony Award for Best New Play and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

In 1996, Wilson delivered a controversial address at the Theatre Communications Group convention at Princeton University. His manifesto on black theater was entitled “The Ground on Which I Stand” pointed out that only one of 67 American Regional Theatre was devoted to black theater. Wilson called for African American artists to seize the power over their own cultural identity and artistic representation and reaffirm their equal importance in contemporary American culture. The speech provoked a national discussion that eventually led to a public debate between Wilson and Robert Brustein, artistic director of the American Repertory Theater, who criticized Wilson’s “separatist” agenda and argued that an activist view of art can lead to a “suppression of free artistic expression.”

Before his death on October 2, 2005, Wilson would complete a series of 10 plays that he called his “Pittsburgh Cycle” or “History Cycle,” comprised of one play set in each decade of the 20th century documenting the African American experience.


AUGUST WILSON'S INTRODUCTION TO FENCES

When the sins of our fathers visit us
We do not have to play host.
We can banish them with forgiveness
As God, in his Largeness and Laws.
~ August Wilson

Near the turn of the century, the destitute of Europe sprang on the city with tenacious claws and an honest and solid dream. The city devoured them. They swelled its belly until it burst into a thousand furnaces and sewing machines, a thousand butcher shops and bakers’ ovens, a thousand churches and hospitals and funeral parlors and moneylenders. The city grew. It nourished itself and offered each man a partnership limited only by his talent, his guile, and his willingness and capacity for hard work. For the immigrants of Europe, a dream dared and won true.

The descendants of African slaves were offered no such welcome or participation. They came from places called the Carolinas and the Virginias, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee. They came strong, eager, searching. The city rejected them, and they fled and settled along the riverbanks and under bridges in shallow, ramshackle houses made of sticks and tar-paper. They collected rags and wood. They sold the use of their muscles and their bodies. They cleaned houses and washed clothes, they shined shoes, and in quiet desperation and vengeful pride, they stole and lived in pursuit of their own dream: That they could breathe free, finally, and stand to meet life with the force of dignity and whatever eloquence the heart could call upon. By 1957, the hard-won victories of the European immigrants had solidified the industrial might of America. War had been confronted and won with new energies that used loyalty and patriotism as its fuel. Life was rich, full, and flourishing. The Milwaukee Braves won the World Series, and the hot winds of change that would make the sixties a turbulent, racing, dangerous, and provocative decade had not yet begun to blow full.


GENESIS

Fences was the second play August Wilson wrote as part of his Pittsburgh Decade Cycle. It was inspired by a collage by artist Romare Bearden entitled Continuities (pictured below). Bearden was one of Wilson’s main artistic influences – his “four B’s,” which also include African-American writer Amiri Baraka, Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges, and (most importantly for Wilson) the Blues.

Romare Bearden: Continuities, 1969 collage on board; 50 x 43 in.Romare Bearden: Continuities, 1969 collage on board; 50 x 43 in.

Coming of age as an artist during the Harlem Renaissance, Romare Bearden embraced the concepts put forth by young African American intellectuals of the 1920s and 1930s and reclaimed the classical African art that had inspired early modern artists such as Picasso and Matisse. The faces of the figures in Continuities (1969) are portrayed in the style of traditional African masks. Improvisational jazz, rural life, and African American quilts were other influences that Bearden employed in his compositions throughout his career.

In a 1987 interview with Dinah Livingston, Wilson explains: “Fences actually started with Troy standing in the yard with a baby in his arms, and the first lines I wrote was ‘I’m standing out here in this yard with my daughter in my arms. She’s just a wee bitty little ole thing. She don’t understand about grownups’ business, and she ain’t got no mamma.’ I didn’t know who he was talking to. I said, ‘O.K., he’s talking to his wife.’ O.K. why is he telling her this? So then I had to invent a series of circumstances that would allow him to stand in the yard with a baby in his arms and say those words to her.”






WILSON ON TROY

In a 1984 interview with Kim Powers, Wilson is asked to recite Troy’s speech that “sums up his life, his song.” Wilson responds with Troy’s speech at the end of 1.3:
“Woman…I do the best I can do. I come in here every Friday. I carry a sack of potatoes and a bucket of lard. You all line up at the door with your hands out. I give you the lint from my pockets. I give you my sweat and my blood. I ain’t got no tears. I done spent them. We go upstairs in that room at night…and I fall down on you and try to blast a hole into forever. I get up Monday morning…find my lunch on the table. I go out. Make my way. Find my strength to carry me through to the next Friday. That’s all I got Rose. That’s all I got to give. I can’t give nothing else.”


WILSON'S PITTSBURGH DECADE CYCLE

Click the image to view larger.Click the image to view larger.


HISTORICAL CONTEXT

The Negro League was an American professional baseball league comprising predominantly African-American teams. The term may be used broadly to include professional black teams outside the leagues and it may be used narrowly for the seven relatively successful leagues beginning 1920 that are sometimes termed "Negro Major Leagues." The first professional team, established in 1885, achieved great and lasting success as the Cuban Giants, while the first league, the National Colored Base Ball League, failed in 1887 after only two weeks due to low attendance. The Negro American League of 1951 is considered the last major league season.

Jack Roosevelt "Jackie" Robinson became the first African-American major league baseball player of the modern era in 1947. While not the first African American professional baseball player in United States history, his Major League debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers ended approximately eighty years of baseball segregation, also known as the baseball color line, or color barrier.

On December 1, 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, Rosa Parks refused to obey the bus driver's order that she give up her seat to make room for a white passenger. Parks' civil disobedience sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott. This movement turned Parks into an international icon of resistance to racial segregation and launched boycott leader Martin Luther King, Jr. to national prominence in the civil rights movement.

The Washington / Homestead Grays of the Negro Leagues.The Washington / Homestead Grays of the Negro Leagues.

Part of the exhibit The Story of Negro League Baseball: We Are the Ship at The Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum in Pittsburgh. It contains 50 original paintings and sketches by Kadir Nelson. The award-winning artist and author spent seven years interviewing former players, examining old photographs, and researching baseball archives to present an authentic depiction of life in the Negro Leagues.Part of the exhibit The Story of Negro League Baseball: We Are the Ship at The Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum in Pittsburgh. It contains 50 original paintings and sketches by Kadir Nelson. The award-winning artist and author spent seven years interviewing former players, examining old photographs, and researching baseball archives to present an authentic depiction of life in the Negro Leagues.

Painting of pitcher Willie Foster with fans. Also part of the exhibit The Story of Negro League Baseball: We Are the ShipPainting of pitcher Willie Foster with fans. Also part of the exhibit The Story of Negro League Baseball: We Are the Ship

This Nelson painting is called "Safe at Home."This Nelson painting is called "Safe at Home."

“Jim Crow law” enforced, at one time legal, separation of the races in the United States based on racial prejudice and assumptions of racial superiority that was contested largely in the public realm as it pertained to people of color accessing social services such as public transportation, public drinking fountains and bathrooms, schools, theaters and stores. Segregation also influenced miscegenation (interracial or interethnic marriage or dating) hiring practices, legal representation, voting practices, medical care and housing. Citizens, business owners, state and federal officials, terrorist mob groups and the KKK enforced segregation. The Civil Rights Movement spurned the US Supreme Court to declare segregation officially unconstitutional in 1954. Its retraction throughout the country proved both slow and very violent.

Brown v. Board of Education (filed in 1951 and decided in 1954) was a landmark decision of the United States Supreme Court, which declared that state laws that established separate public schools for black and white students denied black children equal educational opportunities. This victory paved the way for integration and the civil rights movement.

The American Civil Rights Movement (1955–1968) refers to the reform movements in the United States aimed at abolishing racial discrimination against African Americans and restoring suffrage in Southern states.

The Southern Manifesto was a document written in February-March 1956 by legislators in the United States Congress opposed to racial integration in public places. The manifesto was
signed by 101 politicians from Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. The document was largely drawn up to counter the landmark Supreme Court 1954 ruling Brown v. Board of Education, which integrated public schools. The Southern Manifesto accused the Supreme Court of "clear abuse of judicial power." It further promised to use "all lawful means to bring about a reversal of this decision which is contrary to the Constitution and to prevent the use of force in its implementation."


PRODUCTION HISTORY

Fences was submitted, accepted, workshopped, and presented at the renowned National Playwriting Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in 1983. Director Lloyd Richards, then at the helm of the O’Neill Conference, took the show to Yale Repertory Theatre, where he was also the Dean of the School of Drama. Fences opened at Yale Rep on April 30, 1985 with James Earl Jones as Troy Maxson and Mary Alice as Rose. It then migrated to the Goodman Theatre in Chicago opening in January 1986 (with the same cast), to Seattle Repertory Theatre (with a different cast) later in 1986, and then finally arrived on Broadway on March 26, 1987. During its journey, Wilson continued to shape and revise the script. The Broadway production, directed by Richards, won every major accolade, including the Tony Award for Best Play, the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award, the John Gassner Outer Critics’ Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. That production, which featured James Earl Jones as Troy Maxson, ran for 525 performances and set a record for a non-musical Broadway production by grossing $11 million in a single year.

Back to Top