‘Fences’ now onstage at Karamu: director says audiences today see the play from a different perspective

October 5, 2018

‘Fences’ now onstage at Karamu: director says audiences today see the play from a different perspective

One of August Wilson’s most popular plays, “Fences,” first opened at the Karamu Theatre in the 1980s. It’s now back onstage at Karamu, through Oct. 21 in the Jelliffe Theatre.

Over the years, a number of top-shelf actors have portrayed the lead character, Troy, including James Earl Jones, who performed in the first Broadway production in 1987, and Denzel Washington in a 2010 revival and the 2017 movie. Washington also directed the film.

Tony F. Sias, president and CEO of Karamu, will be taking time off from his day job to direct this production. Although the play has been revived many times, Sias believes audiences will have a different perspective for this production.

“The play will be more about how the show resonates with audiences,” said Sias in a phone interview. “This is a much different climate we are in compared to when the play first went onstage back in 1980s. How do people see the character of Troy? How do we look at the continuing challenges of African-American men? I’m interested in what the audience has to say. We have a couple Q&As scheduled during the run of the show.”

For those who aren’t familiar with the story, it centers on the Maxson family in circa-1950s Pittsburgh, led by patriarch Troy, and his wife, Rose.

Rose stands up for what she believes. Troy, like some black men of the time, is often frustrated toward things in life, including the dreams and ambitions of his youngest son, Cory.

“Troy’s bitterness may be the result of generational trauma that stemmed from his father’s abuse and the inequality he saw as the son of a sharecropper,” said Sias. “This is part of what caused Troy’s difficult relationship with his son.”

Although Wilson’s writing career was short, Sias calls him the most celebrated literary figure of the 20th and 21st centuries. He could be compared to Tennessee Williams, Sias said. Like Wilson, whose stories were based in Pittsburgh, Williams wrote mostly about a specific region of the country, the South.

They both had a remarkable ability to tell stories about everyday people, said Sias. “Fences” is Karamu’s debut production for this season.

Other plays to look out for include: “Day of Absence,” written by Douglas Turner Ward and directed by Karamu’s director of marketing, Nathan Lilly. It takes place in the 1960s in a small Southern town, where all the black people disappear. The white people are left to clean their homes, care for their children and pick up their own trash. It’s a social satire on the importance of blacks in culture, said Sias.

It opens later this month. Two one-act Williams plays, “This Property Is Condemned” and “Twenty-Seven Wagons Full of Cotton.”

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