We accompanied the Lady deGloves to American Players Theatre (APT) in Spring Green, WI to see August Wilson’s Fences. It is about the African-American experience after WWII. We went with hope and trepidation. Our trepidation came from Fences winning the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. We figured that prize would be evidence of its leftist bona fides. We don’t want to spend a night listening to a recitation of grievances. Political points in entertainment need to be subtle. We had hope because APT is a place of quality and integrity.
Much like the Pats over the Steelers (33-3 in case you didn’t see it) hope won in a rout. We had to check to see if it was written by George Will. It is an unflinching yet loving look at the black experience during the postwar years. The play is set in Troy Maxson’s house and yard in Pittsburg during the late 1950s although you need some local knowledge to figure it out. Roberto Clemente is playing for the Pirates and he debuted in 1955. Troy’s son plays music at the Crawford Grill and they read the Pittsburg Courier. Troy’s death is six or seven years later and the voice over montage includes Malcolm X (we think his assassination) which would take us to 1965.
Troy is a hard man that had seen really hard times. He was one of ten (?) children of a sharecropper who left home at 14. Troy came North to be homeless and a thief. He killed a man. He didn’t take our 44th president’s advice and brought a knife to a gun fight and, like in the Magnificent Seven, won. He did time in prison and then was a power hitter in the Negro Leagues. Although the color line has been broken in MLB by the time of the play Troy is rightly upset of his missed opportunity and that there are still some mediocre white players starting. Troy didn’t share Buck O’Neil’s outlook. Now he works picking up trash for the city. During the course of the play he becomes the first black trash truck driver despite not having a license.
Troy became a hard man during these hard times. He watches out for himself as he obtains a house for his family and his brother Gabe with the money Gabe got for brain injuries during WWII. He has a loving wife Rose played wonderfully by Karen Aldridge who he betrays by having an affair that leads to a baby. The mother dies in childbirth and Troy brings the innocent home that leads to a great scene.
Fences is an excellent play made extraordinary by APT. It is about personal responsibility and family. It has a wonderful and shocking conservative outlook on life, family, and religion. Troy and Rose have kept their family together during the Great Depression, WWII, and Jim Crow but Lyons has already broken up his relationship and we know from reading George Will and others that the black family will have bad times in the years to come despite the progress made by blacks as shown by breaking the color barrier in MLB, Troy becoming a driver, and legal improvements. Troy’s children will have a harder time keeping a family in a much less hard time.
It is such a good play because its political outlook is subtle. The play doesn’t beat us over the head. Troy, Rose, and the rest are interesting and imperfect. You should see Fences and enjoy them.