LOGAN — If you’ve never seen a live performance of August Wilson’s iconic play Fences, go ASAP see the production by the Lyric Repertory Company in Logan. If you have seen a production of Fences, go see this one at Lyric Repertory Company. If you have seen the film version and think the show does not get any better than Denzel Washington in the role of a lifetime, you should still see this production at the Lyric Repertory Company in Logan. It is that good. Fences is worth the drive, worth the time, and worth the price of the ticket.
I see a lot of theatre. As a teacher, director, and erstwhile critic, mostly I am preoccupied with examining the different production elements, analyzing the director’s vision, and interpreting the overall product. After my first ten minutes in the audience of Fences, I forgot all about those things and was completely engrossed in the story of Troy and Rose and their family. Director Summer Session has crafted a beautiful piece that belongs firmly on any best of the best theatre list anywhere.
Everything was perfect in this production starting with the leading actors Herb Newsome and Brittany Deneen. Playing Troy Maxson and his long-suffering wife Rose, respectively, Newsome and Deneen take the audience into the complicated dynamic of an African American family struggling to flourish in post-World War II America. The play shows the parents’ struggle to give their children a better life, Troy’s own fight to lead his family, mistakes and disappointments, and the next generation of children who each forge their own paths in different ways. Fences is the sixth play in August Wilson’s ten-part Pittsburg Cycle and is eloquent, poignant, heartbreaking, and jubilant.
As Rose, Deneen is the heart of the play: the strong-minded, loving, forgiving and no-nonsense wife and mother. Deneen is brilliant in this role; her ability to show her character’s emotion and thought processes and to speak without words is outstanding. I was mesmerized watching her whenever she was on stage, whether she was speaking or not. Her acting skills were a revelation of subtlety and control. Newsome is the heavy lifter as Troy Maxson, and my goodness, what a tour de force! Having last seen Newsome as Dickie in the farce A Fox on the Fairway, (a part in which he excelled, tacky golf sweaters and all), Newsome’s Troy was a complete 180-degree from the goofball, silly, scheming Dickie. If I had not had a playbill, I might not have realized it was the same actor until much later. What a triumph. Troy is not a terribly likeable character. He makes bad choices, hurts the people he loves the most, and is domineering and abusive. Yet, in Newsome’s performance, I could see and understand his motivations and character arc better than I ever have.
The rest of the cast was similarly outstanding. Jimmy Haynie as Gabriel was so convincing as Troy’s damaged brother. He pulled so hard at my heartstrings so much that I wanted to take Gabe home and take care of him. Brandon Foxworth as Bono, Troy’s lifelong and closest friend, was masterful in his ability to communicate subtext, and Foxworth walked a fine line beautifully between Bono being Troy’s sycophant and his conscience. The scene in act two where Bono stops by to say hello, yet does not step inside the fence of the yard, was crushing and revealing how Bono felt about Troy’s less than stalwart activities.
Troy’s children, Lyons (played by Aaron Joseph), Cory (played by Carlwell Redmon) and little Raynell (played by Molly Labrum) represent three different phases of Troy’s life as a father. Lyons is the product of a youthful dalliance that might have led to a stable family, but for Troy being sent away to prison for 15 years. Lyons and his mother were forced to shift for themselves, and grown-up Lyons seems to still be paying for his father’s transgressions. Cory had the benefit of being raised by two parents in a stable home, yet still is thwarted from following his own path by his father’s unresolved anger and suspicion. Raynell is the result of an extra-marital affair Troy had with another woman who died in childbirth. Troy brought the newborn home to Rose, who, in an act of true charity and pure love, takes in that baby girl as her own. Every one of these characters were stunningly portrayed; each had their weaknesses and strengths, and each was sympathetic and real. I could not find a fault with any of the actors’ performances.
The design element of the production was equally outstanding. First impressions walking into the black box theater at Utah State University were that I had literally walked into the Maxsons’ back yard. Scenic designer Spencer Potter created a world where every detail was perfect: the mismatched chairs on the porch, the rag ball hanging from the tree bough, the tools ready to hand, the worn out yet perfectly clean and scrubbed porch, the half-dead patch of grass. Props were similarly flawless, right down to the clothes-pegs Rose uses to hang out the wash. Costume design by Daniel Carter added pertinent details to each character: Rose’s calico housedress and apron, Troy’s worn but well-mended shirts and trousers, Gabe’s patched sweater and too short pants. Every aspect was precise and perfect. All combined, there was not a single thing to jar or detract or pull away from the action. The lighting design by Jayson M Lawshee was superb, using both colors to convey emotion, and focused lights to underline key moments. I commend the design team for their interconnected and cohesive work. Fences was as beautiful to look at as it was wrenching to watch.
I do not usually wax so verbose in theatre reviews, but I mean every word. Lyric Repertory Company’s Fences deserves all the accolades for its script, direction, set, costumes, acting, lighting, props, and music. Bravo to Lyric Rep! Go see Fences at the Lyric Rep Company in Logan, but keep in mind that the black box theatre is on the USU campus, not downtown. Give yourself some extra time to find parking and walk to the fine arts building.