Saturday, May 12, 2018

Fences—Portland Playhouse—NE Portland

Ole Blue, Shadows and Substance

     This powerful August Wilson drama is directed by Lou Bellamy.  It is playing at their site, 602 NE Prescott St. (free parking lot two blocks North on 6th), through June 10th.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-488-5822.

     Thoreau famously said that we lead lives of “quiet desperation,” and so it is here.  But we all don’t have a Walden Pond to escape to, as he did, where one can sort things out.  But, if inner demons eat at you and the Past haunts you, then no amount of solace will save you.  So, Troy, stifled by his dreams, the only way out is to keep swinging, lashing out until the final inning, when the horn is blown, and the game is over, and your score is tallied as to wins and losses.

     Troy (Lester Purry), a middle-aged man in Philly in about the mid-fifties, seems to have a tiger by its tail, but who is wagging whom.  He is a failed baseball player who earns a living by picking up garbage for the Sanitation Dept.  His best friend for many years, Bono (Bryant Bentley), works along beside him.  Their daily routine after work consists of having a snort, bragging about their prowess with women and heading down to the local dive for checkers or to watch “the game.”

     Rose (Erika LaVonn) is his ever-faithful, strong-willed wife, who tolerates his excesses and loves him all the more, all these many years.  Cory (La’ Tevin Alexander) is their teenage son on the verge of getting a football scholarship to college but shirks his duties at home.  One of which is to help his Dad build a fence around their house, which seems to be a never-ending project.

     Troy also has a son, Lyons (Seth Rue), from a former marriage, who is a jazz musician at nights in clubs which, according to Troy, is not a “real” job but a distraction.  And then there is Gabriel (Bobby Bermea), Troy’s mentally-challenged brother, having a steel plate in his head from a war injury.  Gab has his own unique way of dealing with the world and has his horn at the ready to announce the end of the world, when his buddy, St. Peter, gives him the signal.

     This is the cast, shy one character, Raynell (Imani Hill or Serelle Strickland, alternating the role) a little girl who will appear near the end.  The stage is set, the spring wound tight for the conflicts, confrontations and confessions of these struggling, wounded souls in their mini-America.  Here there be roars from this Pride and echoes from it that may spell a better tomorrows.  Really can’t tell you more, as Wilson’s masterful storytelling style and explosive dialogue does it so much better.

     Bellamy is the perfect choice for director, having known Wilson himself and having played Troy, too.  His use and balance of the characters on the stage, as well as his intimate understanding of the material, shows to powerful advantage in this production, as it teeters between all out rages then, when the storm is quelled, lulls you in the quieter moments.  A master directing a masterpiece!

     The set (designer, Daniel Meeker, a veteran of many productions) is so realistic, you feel you could walk upon it and be transported back in time.  The cast is the best I’ve seen in the many Wilson plays I have witnessed.  Standing out among the best is Bermea, always exceptional in any theatre project he undertakes, as the troubled brother, balancing beautifully humor with sadness; LaVonn, as the dutiful wife, who matches Troy expertly in power when maligned; and Purry, as the focus character, who is a true anti-hero, that you despise, feel sorry for and empathized with, often at the same time.  A crowning performance among many Royalty!

I highly recommend this production, it’s not to be missed, as it’s one of the finest in the NW.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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