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on January 9, 2001
Fences, by August Wlison, is a play that potrays the many roles of an African-American family that lives during a difficult period of time when Africans were being segagrated. In the play, Rose Maxosn, a house wife in her early-fortys, has a difficult time handling her family. She always finds herself battling between the decisions that her husband, Troy Maxson, makes and with what she thinks is right. Throughout the play, life for Rose was a graet challenge, but even though the pain was great, she always holds her head up high and waits for better days. This play teaches us that being able to forgive and go on with your life potrays a lot of who you really are inside. When this script was placed in my hands, my head ached to the thought of having to read another boring book. To my surprise, when it was read out loud with great feeling, my heart jumped with excitment and joy. After I had gotten a sense of the characters feelings and language, I was unable to put it down. This book reached out to me like no other book has ever done before. The way that Rose was able to forgive so many inappropiate acts is very astonishing to me. I franckly admire Rose for being able to be a strong women and for sticking to what she says. I wish that everyone that reads this script is able to take a bit of sweetness from Rose.
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on March 1, 2000
"Fences," by August Wilson, is a wonderful mix of drama and comedy that emphasizes the tribulations and confusions people were going through, during the changing sixties. In this two-act play, Troy Maxson is a middle-aged African American who is struggling to raise a son, keep a family together and deal with the new desires and needs everybody is beginning to feel as social standards slowly begin to change. As a child growing up, Troy did not have a great father figure, and he was not able to persue his dream of becoming a great baseball player as he grew older, because of racial limitations of the time period. Now as things begin to change for the better, he is still afraid of these limitations and overcoming them. His son wants to play football, but Troy doesn't want him to. He wants him to get a job and become good with his hands. As he refuses to let his son play, he pushes him away. He begins to push his wife away too, because he feels he needs his own space and has new desires. This play becomes a struggle for Troy to try to pass on morals he thinks are right and to be a proud man in a time where hatred is strong and boundaries are being broken. Troy Maxson is having to change his ways according to change and he grew up doing what he could to survive, so changing after so many years of living a certain way to survive is harder than anything he has had to deal with before. Will he come out of it successful?
A wonderful blend of characters, hysterical, beautiful, bold, courageous and passionate; this play is sure to win your favor.
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From the opening scene we as audience members are dropped whole into the world of the characters in August Wilson's classic play. The dialect of the characters, the hints of jargon, and the references that aren't explained but simply ARE allow us to be immersed in his setting. This back porch, with its visible foibles (exposed icebox, half-built fence) make Troy Maxson, his family, and his friends into new beings that become larger than their own lives--and very like our own lives.
There is nothing in this play we don't all have to face from day to day. Work, marriage, family disputes, mental illness, adultery, violence, and more events populate this play as surely as the characters do. Yet the clear, Sophoclean way they are addressed makes them matter to us in an immediate, powerful way.
The play is broken up into two acts, comprising eleven scenes. The first ten take place over a span of a few months, while the final provides an epilogue some years later. Some modern theatre purists will balk at this many divisions, and yet the way Wilson makes them pop will let an audience that loves theatre to both enjoy and understand what's happening to the characters.
This is a difficult piece of theatrical literature, yet one of the most important and compelling of the last twenty years. For all its faluts (slipshod editing, internal contradictions, great length) it remains a valuable play, and one that hasn't received nearly the acclaim it deserves.
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on January 9, 2001
Fences, by August Wilson, is a drama about what black people were going through during the sixties. This play contains two acts about the life of Troy Maxson, a middle-aged African American who is trying to raise his son, keep his family together, and deal with an ever changing society. One of Troy's problems is that Troy's son, Cory, wants to play football and get a college scholarship. Troy, on the other hand, continues thinking that the white person wouldn't truly allow his son to play. In addition Cory has a job at a grocery store called the A&P and his job interferes with football. Troy deals with this problem by making Cory drop football for his job because Troy wants Cory to have some resposibility. Cory dosen't like Troy for that, but Troy is one of those 'You live under my roof, you live by my rules and when I ask you to jump you say how high!' type of dad. During this play one gets an understanding of the social classes. The white garbage men get to drive the truck while the colored do the lifting; the white person gets all meat in his soup, while the black person gets nothing but vegetables in restaurants. This play was like a documentary of a sixties black family. I think the best way to relate to the people of this play is to act out the play in one's class or at home. I thought is was a good play that seemed realistic and I would recommend this "script," although as a warning, I caution that few people in my class thought it was boring.
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on July 2, 1999
The plays of August Wilson afford us the rare opportunity to hear African American History from a unique perspective. In an engrossing manner, he takes a slice from the lives of ordinary people and tells the entire twentieth century history of the Black Experience in America. His greatness as a playwright is his ability to personally tell this history behind the masks of his many rich characters.
"Fences", his masterpiece, focuses on a conflicted man named Troy Maxson who is in the process of building a fence around his yard. With this backdrop, Wilson analogously depicts the numerous metaphorical fences which his protagonist builds around himself at the expense of his relationship with his family. Extending the parable, we see the fence that his wife, Rose, is trying to build around Troy and her family in an attempt to hold them all together.
"Fences" is a brilliant essay on the miscommunication and misunderstandings that inhabit most families and the corresponding regrets that inevitably exhist when it is too late to do anything about it.
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on January 6, 2012
Published in 1983, this is the sixth play of August Wilson's "Pittsburgh Cycle," and by far the best known, winning the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. All the plays in the cycle take up various aspects of the American-American experience during the first part of the twentieth century. "Fences," as the namely subtly hints at, looks at the differing ways of life and cultural assumptions that Americans - black and white - of two generations as they find themselves growing further and further apart.

The action revolves around Troy Maxson, the dictatorial, autocratic patriarch who rules over the play with a brooding, constant, suffocating presence. Everyone slavishly concedes to his authoritarian, overbearing personality - his wife Rose, his best friend Bono, and his two grown children, Lyons and Cory. Troy, now a garbage man, was once an aspiring baseball player when he was younger, but was unable to break into the game because of the color barrier. When his son shows similar athletic promise, he shuts down any opportunity for him to pursue it, demanding that he get a job at the local store instead. Whether it is out of spite or not is unclear, but his negation of his son's dreams comes across as mean-spirited and petty. At another point, his son Cory asks his father "How come you ain't never liked me?" to which Troy responds "Liked you? Who the hell said I gotta like you?"

Much of the play revolves around the ways Troy exerts his power over his wife and children. His son, Lyons, occasionally asks him for money, which always makes Troy bristle with resentment and sends him into a seething tirade about how Lyons shouldn't feel entitled and should stop coming by just to borrow money. Troy has an affair with Alberta (whom we never see) and conceives a child with her, Raynell, whom we only see in the last scene at Troy's funeral.

The title refers to the fence that Troy and his son try to build throughout the play, yet Troy always seems to be castigating him for doing something else, but it preforms other functions, too. Troy has an (extreme) aversion toward death and loss; the fence is, one supposes, there to militate against death. The fence had another, much more resonant meaning for me: it stands for the wall that separates black Americans raised in the 1930s and 1940s from their children raised in the 1960s, with all the social, cultural, and political baggage that comes along with that chasmal divide.

At the end of the play, Wilson has certainly made a hell of a character out of Troy - a character who begs for the readers' sympathy. But as great of a playwright as he is, he just couldn't bring me there; I could never see Troy as anything other than a tyrannical despot. I felt sorry for his children, and wondered why his wife suffered his presence. I tried to find virtues in him, but the fact that he is a soi-disant hard-drinking Lothario really doesn't help his case. I have to admit, however, that I am biased: Troy reminds me of someone in my own family whose very presence I cannot bear, yet who I grew up around, and whose philistinism I occasionally still have to bear. Much of what he said in the play, his motivations, his attitudes, are exactly like those of said relative. I know it is precisely this fearful symmetry which caused such a visceral reaction toward the play itself. As much as I disliked Troy, the play itself is superb. To capture the psychology of a man like Troy, as well as his long-suffering wife and children, takes a superb craftsman, which Wilson definitely is.
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on December 23, 2008
The first couple of paragraphs of this review have been used as introduction to other August Wilson Century Cycle plays as well.

Okay, blame it on the recently departed Studs Terkel and his damn interview books. I had just been reading his "The Spectator", a compilation of some of his interviews of various authors, actors and other celebrities from his long-running Chicago radio program when I came across an interview that he had with the playwright under review here, August Wilson. Of course, that interview dealt with things near and dear to their hearts on the cultural front and mine as well. Our mutual love of the blues, our concerns about the history and fate of black people and the other oppressed of capitalist society and our need to express ourselves politically in the best way we can. For Studs it was the incessant interviews, for me it is incessant political activity and for the late August Wilson it was his incessant devotion to his century cycle of ten plays that covered a range of black experiences over the 20th century.

Strangely, although I was familiar with the name of the playwright August Wilson and was aware that he had produced a number of plays that were performed at a college-sponsored repertory theater here in Boston I had not seen or read his plays prior to reading the Terkel interview. Naturally when I read there that one of the plays being discussed was entitled "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" about the legendary female blues singer from the 1920's I ran out to get a copy of the play. That play has been reviewed elsewhere in this space but as is my habit when I read an author who "speaks" to me I grab everything I can by him or her to see where they are going with the work. This is doubly true in the case of Brother Wilson as his work is purposefully structured as an integrated cycle, and as an intensive dramatic look at the black historical experience of the 20th century that has driven a lot of my own above-mentioned political activism.

The action of this play takes place in the mid-1950's in a black neighborhood in Pittsburgh (Wilson's home town) as do most of the plays in the cycle. This is the sixth play in the cycle and the first to reflect that notion that some profound changes were in the offing for black people, not all of them good and not all for the better. Both these facts are important in understanding the tensions of the play. Although Wilson's plays are almost exclusively centered in black life as it is lived in the neighborhood the various trials and tribulations of blacks elsewhere are woven into his story line. The white world, for the most part, except as represented by amorphous outside forces that have the access and control of the resources that blacks need to survive and break out of racial isolation are on the sidelines here. And that is as it should be in these plays on the black experience. Moreover, this truly reflects how it has been (and how it still is, notwithstanding the Obamaid) in that outer world.

I labelled this entry with the headline "Better Days Are Coming?" purposefully including the question mark. Surely, some progress toward the goal of racial equality, if not nearly enough, has been made over the last half century since the time period of this play. That is not the question. The real question is posed by the main character, Troy Maxton, who in his time was something of an exceptional baseball player, but who "came too early" to have it change the fortunes of his life. His reply: "ain't nothing should have ever been too early". Wilson hits the nail on the head here. After that remark nothing else really needs to be said.

Wilson's conceptual framework, as I have mentioned previously in a review of his "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom", is impeccable. Placing the scene in 1950's Pittsburgh permits him to give a bird's eye view of that great migration of blacks out of the South in the post-World War II period at a time when they are shaking off those old subservient southern roots. Wilson is also able to succinctly draw in the questions of white racism (obliquely here), black self-help (as in building that damn fence) , black hatred of whites, black self-hatred, black illusion (that the `lifting' of the white boats was going to end, for blacks, the seemingly permanent Great Depression), black pride (through the link with past black historical figures and with the then current hero, Jackie Robinson, although Troy has some cutting remarks on the status of that figure), the influence of the black church (good or bad), black folk wisdom (as portrayed by Jim Bono, who is more grounded in his memories of his southern roots than the others) and, in the end, the rage just below the surface of black existence (as portrayed here by Troy's brother Gabriel's, a character who epitomizes one of the tragic aspects of black male existence) resulting from a world that not was not made by the characters in this play but took no notice of their long suppressed rage that turned in on itself.

Unlike some of the earlier play, however, there is a little ray of hope in the character of Troy's son (by his wife Rose) Cory whose struggle for his own identity with his father and the world is a sub-theme here. As always, if you get a chance go see this play but, please, at least read it. Read the whole cycle.
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on October 30, 2014
Definitely a theater classic, as the play belongs to Wilson's ambitious "Pittsburgh Cycle": a play for each decade of the African-American experience in the XX century. This one in particular is set in the 50's and tells the story of Troy, a middle-aged father struggling to support his family while harboring failed dreams of playing baseball. Filled with symbolic realism and an amazing cast of complex characters, "Fences" can be a fascinating read. And although it does not belong to one of my favorite plays, I would not discourage anyone from picking it up and trying it out.
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Written in the early 1980s, August Wilson's FENCES won both Pulitizer Prize and Tony Award in 1987. One of ten plays Wilson set in 20th Century Pittsburg, the play examines the lives of an African-American family in the 1950s, when attitudes toward race and equality have begun to evolve in a way that will ultimately catch fire in the 1960s. The play requires a single set, showing a family's porch and yard, and a cast of seven, five men, one woman, and a young girl.

The play focuses on Troy Maxson, who works as a garbage collector for the city of Pittsburg. In his youth Maxson dealt with an abusive father and was later jailed for manslaughter. While in prison he learned to play baseball, and when he was eventually released he became a noted player in the "Negro League"--but both age and culture were against him and he eventually settled into marriage with Rose. Although he loves his wife, he is dissatisfied with his sons and with his life in general, and as the play progresses he becomes more and more like his own abusive father, betraying his wife, his brother, and undermining his younger son's ambitions. The play is levened with moments of humor and humanity, but it is a distinctly dark portrait of a man who finds himself suffocated by circumstances but who cannot adapt to change of any kind.

The characters are strongly drawn and very memorable, with Troy the obvious focus of the drama, and in some ways it might be described as an African-American take on DEATH OF A SALESMAN. Like most plays, it is better seen than read, but it reads better than most. Recommended.

GFT, Amazon Reviewer
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on October 31, 1999
In this book, August Wilson portrays Troy Maxson as a bitter former baseball player who is basically unhappy with his life. This book shows the amount racism blacks had to deal with in the 60/70's and how infuriated blacks were. Troy, a black from a small town runs away from his family at age fourteen, because he hates his father and everything he does. His father was abusive and unfaithful, and Troy wanted no part in that. Troy has become a product of his environment and feels like he must take his anger out on his family. Yet, when Troy grows up and his own family he deprives his wife and son of everything they want. His wife, Rosa, who is literally a slave to Troy, but she respects him in every way. Troy is so bitter about not getting the chance to play baseball, he refuses to let his son, Corey play high school or college football, for fear his son will live out his fathers dreams. Yet, the only thing he does is build a fence around the home, because Rosa wants him to. For Troy, this is a way to keep out all his fears, but most importantly, death. For Rosa, the fence is to keep her family in, because deep down inside she knows Troy is not happy, but she still wants to keep him in her life. This book is an excellent story of racism and prejudice and one mans struggle to find his place in the world. Troy Maxson, who needs something or someone to make him feel special, forgets all he has and affair fathers a child by another woman. Rosa does not know what to do, so she allows him to live with her, but she has lost all her love for him. Troy's son Corey has lost all his respect for his father, and has one last final confrontation with him, where he shows his disrespect. Troy's reasoning for his actions were selfish and he doesn't think of Rose. He explained to Rose that his mistress gave him a different idea and understanding about his self. Troy was taught to take responsibility for his actions, so he confessed, but his motives were weak. This is a must read for anyone, who wants to learn more about race relations decades ago. The enthralling story line along with the fast paced actions keeps any reader on the edge of their seat.
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