The St. Louis Black Repertory Company is staging August Wilson's Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Fences at the Grandel Theatre beginning Wednesday, Jan. 5, and the story is as relevant as it ever was to a racially flummoxed America.
Set in 1957, the play concerns Troy Maxon, a bitter former Negro League baseball star who now works as a garbage man. When his son begins to see the possibility of working as a professional athlete, the elder Maxon rants that his boy must forget the idea, that the fences between the races will only stop him short of his dream. Gradually we see that putting up another fence isn't going to solve the problem.
Veteran actor Lincoln Kilpatrick portrays Troy. Erik Kilpatrick, the actual son of Lincoln Kilpatrick, play Maxon's elder son. The younger Kilpatrick is best known for his role as Jackson in the TV series The White Shadow. The cast also includes Linda Kennedy, A.C. Smith and Kelly Henton. Ed De Shae directs.
Fences received just about every drama award a play can earn for when it debuted on Broadway in 1987. James Earl Jones, in what critics called the role of his life, played Troy at New York's 46th Street Theatre. Wilson, a native of Pittsburgh, is also the author of such other works that explicate the African-American experience as Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Joe Turner's Come and Gone, Two Trains Running, The Piano Lesson and, most recently, Seven Guitars.
The 56-year-old Troy has felt progressively more and more fenced in through his adult life, by racism, by rules and even by a happy marriage. At work he is not even allowed to drive the garbage truck because he is black. When his son Cory is recruited by professional-football folk, he is consumed by envy and tries to warn him that the fences will get him, too, just as they got his old man. The drama forces us to look at what happens when barriers back the human spirit into a corner, but hope competes mightily and always against defeat.
Fences is performed by the Black Rep at 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 5-30, and also at 3 p.m. Jan. 15 and 29, at the Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square. Call 534-3810 for information.