“Someone,” shared Lizabeth, “has daddy issues.” We were discussing a play we’d just seen performed by The Black Theatre Troupe — and I’d written those very same words in my program.
The play was August Wilson’s “Fences,” known to many as the Broadway revival for which Denzel Washington and Viola Davis recently earned Tony Awards.
I was just as happy to see it performed locally, and I doubt I’d have enjoyed it any more in a larger venue with larger-than-life talent.
We have plenty of that right here in our own hometown. Don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise.
If you need proof, just head to the Playhouse on the Park (in the Viad tower in downtown Phoenix) this weekend and see “Fences” for yourself. The show has done well, and hence extended its run for another week.
The family drama that is “Fences” opens on a Friday night in 1957 and closes on a Friday morning in 1965. What transpires in between is a full house of family dysfunction that I suspect each of us can relate to at least in part.
I thought of my own father during a scene in which a son who comes to pay his father a visit is berated for not visiting earlier or more often (and they wonder why we sometimes hesitate to call) — and several others.
The beauty of seeing this play as a parent is the multitude perspectives in play. I experienced “Fences” at once as a woman, a wife, a mother and a daughter.
I left the theater feeling like this was a piece I could see performed many times over by this very same cast. The work was delicate without feeling fragile, complex without feeling complicated.
In the end, the audience shared a lovely, lengthy standing ovation.
I expected as much given some of the comments we overheard during the show — something about chills, tingly spines and hairs standing on end.
Like the running narration and commentary we endured from folks in the row behind us, it was just a bit too much information.
It’s all good and fine to compare what you have read with what you are seeing on stage, but that’s why the theater goddess made intermissions (though some suspect potty breaks and the munchies were also top of her mind).
We saved our discussion for the ride home and I was grateful that the gadget known as a cell phone was finally put to good use as Lizabeth got online and researched a bit about the work, even suggesting questions for discussion.
There’s plenty to discuss — racial injustice, the treatment of women, the interplay of love and duty, the faultlines between family members.
And fences — sometimes meant to keep people out, but other times meant to keep people in.
Lizabeth was delighted to discover that the leading female character, Rose, was played by Lillie Richardson — who once taught classes at Childsplay in Tempe.
Lizabeth remembers Richardson as one of her first two Shakespeare teachers, and I was thrilled to share with Richardson that Lizabeth continues to study his work today in a variety of settings.
The youngest cast member in BTT’s “Fences” is Taylor Feliz Flores, a 7th grade student at Metropolitan Arts Institute who plays Raynell, who began voice, piano and drama classes at the Phoenix Center for the Arts when she was just six years old (and was a proud member of the Phoenix Children’s Chorus).
As always, a review of cast bios revealed several fascinating facts.
Walter Belcher (Gabriel) has performed for Colin Powell, Bill Clinton and Pope John Paul II — and recently released his debut jazz CD titled “Back to Basics.”
Ken Love (Troy), who dedicates his performance in “Fences” to his father, recently enjoyed his debut as a playwright when his “Black River” received a reading at the Phoenix Theatre New Works Festival.
The brevity of blogging prevents me from spotlighting every talented cast, crew and creative team member (“Fences” is directed by BTT executive director David J. Hemphill) — but you can peruse the program yourself if you’re lucky enough to get tickets to one of three remaining performances.
“Fences” ends its run after 8pm shows this Friday and Saturday night, and a 3pm matinee this Sunday. Tickets are available through the Phoenix Theatre box office (Next up for BTT is a co-production of “Hairspray” with Phoenix Theatre).
We found that sitting front and center made this work feel especially powerful, but there truly isn’t a bad seat in the house — although Hemphill was delighted to publicly announce for the first time Sunday afternoon that The Black Theatre Troupe has secured “a new facility slated to come online November 2011.”
Hemphill shared that the future location, at Washington and 12th St., was made possible by City of Phoenix bond funding many years ago coupled with recent site approval from the Phoenix City Council.
The new facility will feature two theaters, classrooms and office space — allowing the company to expand its outreach to school children (both on site and in Valley schools).
Click here to learn more about the City of Phoenix’s 2009-2014 capital improvement program for arts and cultural facilities.
Then click here to get your tickets to “Fences” — one of Arizona’s “must see” theater works this season.
Note: “Fences” contains mature language and subject matter. Click here to learn about Arizona Theatre Company’s upcoming presentation of another August Wilson work — “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” starring actor/recording artist Jevetta Steele — which opens Oct 16 in Tucson and Nov 11 in Phoenix.
Coming up: Getting to know “Gaston,” School outreach programs from the MIM, Performance art and princesses, Following the yellow brick road, Perspectives on “The Color Purple”