Lyric Repertory brings to life Black experiences with ‘Fences’

LOGAN – The Lyric Repertory Company took a break Friday evening from a steady diet of comedies to produce August Wilson’s masterpiece Fences.

It was a big break.

Directed by Summer Session, this gritty drama tells the story of a Black urban family struggling to survive racism, infidelity and failed dreams in Pittsburgh in the late 1950s.

Wilson is renowned as the playwright of a sprawling saga of ten dramas called the “Pittsburgh Cycle” chronicling the African-American experience in the 20th Century, including Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, Two Trains Running and The Piano Lesson.

Wilson’s plays also marked a breakthrough for African-Americans in theater. Before the “Pittsburgh Cycle,” few dramatic playwrights were able to capture the Black experience in a manner that rang true for those who lived through it.

On the surface, Fences is a family drama. But themes of race, regret, generational trauma and lost opportunities are woven throughout the play.

It took a truly impressive ensemble cast to bring Fences to life.

Equity actor Herb Newsome brilliantly played Troy Maxson, a talented baseball player who never made it into the Major Leagues due to the color barrier.

Troy works as a garbage man and has just become the first Black trash truck driver in Pittsburgh. But Troy drinks and bitterly reminisces about his past and the injustices he has faced over the years.

Finally, the burden of Troy’s perceived responsibilities becomes too much and he tries to find freedom in the arms of a woman other than his faithful wife with tragic results.

Newsome delivers a heartfelt portrayal of a man who can’t help hurting those he cares about most. His conflicted impulse is to gruffly protect his wife and sons from an unjust world that has never played fair with him by teaching them to lower their expectations.

Brandon Foxworth plays Troy’s drinking buddy Bono and their longstanding relationship rings absolutely true.

Their backyard banter is fresh and funny, full of tall tales about wrestling with duties and death. These are two fine actors at the top of their form.

As Troy’s wife Rose, understudy Kat Lee stepped up to that role on opening night and her performance as the put-upon spouse was rock solid. Even when she was forced to rely on Fences’ script in the Second Act, her portrayal was still searingly honest when she talked about planting a seed in her husband’s “hard and rocky” soul that will never bloom due to his infidelity.

Another understudy stood in for the role of Troy’s youngest son Cory. William Appiah was convincing as a son desperate for approval and never getting it from his resentful father.

Smooth-talking Aaron Joseph appeared as Troy’s older son from a previous marriage. Although a gifted musician, Lyon’s knows he can never measure up to Troy’s standards and he doesn’t try.

Jimmy Haynie also delivered a remarkable performance as the brain-damaged Gabriel, a World War II veteran. Haynie brings a physicality and sincerity to his part that suggests a hint of redemption at the climax of Fences.

Additional evening performances of Fences are slated in the Black Box Theatre in the Cache Fine Arts Center on the campus of Utah State University at 7:30 p.m. on July 7, 13, 23, 27 and 29.

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