The Shadow behind Fences

Jim Bono, a character in the play Fences, reminds the audience that fences are built to keep people out, but they can also be used to keep folks in. Within all us resides a shadow, an entity that houses our fears, doubts, anger, resentment, etc. It is our nature not to want to face the darkest part of ourselves. By not acknowledging our shadows we build a fence around it which only allows the shadow to remain and fester. Pulitzer Prize winning playwright August Wilson once stated, “Confront the dark parts of yourself, and work to banish them with illumination and forgiveness. Your willingness to wrestle with your demons will cause your angels to sing. Use the pain as fuel, as a reminder of your strength.”

Fences is an intricate, dynamic story about baseball, marriage, family, infidelity and redemption, but mostly it is about the shadow that walks with us. Troy Maxson is a man that walks in his shadow, even if he does not know it. He is a man that is resentful about the hand he is forced to play in life. As a sanitation worker he provides a life for his family, but if the prejudices of the day had not prevailed Troy would have been a star baseball player in the major leagues. He has a wife, Rose, that willing to stick by him through the mundane disappointments life has hurled at them, but he desires more. He owns a home courtesy of the money his brother receives from the military after a brain injury suffered during the war. He harbors contempt for his father for the way he was treated, but does not realize how he imitates his father’s behavior. He has two sons. Lyons, the elder son who was not raised with him, has a strained connection with Troy. His youngest son, by Rose, only wants his father’s love and approval, but for Troy young, willful Corey may be his greatest test and he keeps striking out as he threatens to transfuse his bitterness to his son.

Denzel Washington is beyond brilliant in the role of Troy. Until one has witnessed Denzel Washington on stage, one can not truly fathom the talent that is inherent in this actor. Troy has all the characteristics of a certified, Grade A bastard, but Denzel Washington’s portrayal of this complex individual still compels the audience to like him and feel empathy for him. Viola Davis is sensational as Rose. Her performance turns a housewife into a heroine. Hollywood has yet to tap into the depth that this actress has to offer, whether on stage or screen her talent shines as bright as the morning sun and is as rare as a blue moon. Mykelti Williamson’s portrayal of Gabriel, Troy’s brother, is Bubba Gump on steroids – he is compelling and comical. Chris Chalk plays the rebellious Corey, Russell Hornsby plays Lyons and Stephen McKinley Henderson plays Jim Bono, Troy’s lifelong friend, all deliver pinch hits and bunts in their commanding performances.

The star power and expertise of this cast can only be compared to skill walking around in the New York Yankees’ locker room. Even Steinbrenner could not buy a better cast. Kenny Leon’s direction and the cast’s performances combine to be a Josh Gibson, cracked-bat home run out of the venue with the hardware to prove it. This revival of Fences garnered three Tony awards including Best Revival of a Play, Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play for Denzel Washington and Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play for Viola Davis.


 The Cort Theatre could barely contain the energy on stage. I viewed the play from the last row of the balcony and I was on the edge of my seat leering at the stage through the entire production. When Gabriel blows his horn in the final scene signifying that a deceased Troy had made it to heaven, it felt that the audience had been redeemed along with him. This revival of Fences is the second trip of play to Broadway since its first Tony award-winning incarnation in 1987. Surely August Wilson’s presence must shadow all the actors on stage while they bring his material to back to life. There may not be any crying in baseball, but there is room to run the gamut of emotion in this production. No fence is big enough to hold this play.

Photos:  Joan Marcus,

2010 Tony Awards

Segregation and rock ‘n’ roll triumphed over corrupt government regimes and Afrobeat, men wearing wigs toppled Sondheim, Denzel Washington and Viola Davis swung and hit a homerun past the fences and Red is the new color of the Great White Way.  If you are confused about what I was just referring to, then you missed the live broadcast of the 2010 Tony Awards on CBS.

Photo: Kevin Mazur/

The stars of Broadway and Hollywood filled Radio City Music Hall while fans in Manhattan braved a downpour to watch a live simulcast of the event in Times Square.  Sean Hayes did not disappoint, the Promises, Promises star and Tony nominee was just as enjoyable as the host of the Tony’s as he is on stage at the Broadway Theatre.  The show opened with Sean Hayes tickling the ivories singing “Blue Suede Shoes” with Levi Kreis (Tony Award winner for Best Performance by a Featured Actor) and the cast of Million Dollar Quartet; he also accompanied fellow cast mate Kristen Chenoweth as she sang “I Say a Little Prayer.”  The casts of Come Fly With Me, Fela!, La Cage Aux Folles and Everyday Rapture provided audiences at Radio City and at home with a small glimpse of why they were nominated and the opening number closed with the Green Day and the cast of American Idiot having stars like Michael Douglas, Antonio Banderas and Will and Jada Smith clapping to their punk rock masterpiece. 


Photo: J. Countess/

Although Fela! and La Cage Aux Folles accumulated 11 nominations, each only walked away with three awards.  Bill T. Jones won for Best Choreography for Fela! and the musical centering on the Afrobeat pioneer/activist also won Best Sound Design of a Musical and Best Costume Design of a Musical.   La Cage Aux Folles won Best Direction of a Musical, Best Revival of a Musical and Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical for Douglas Hodge.  Catherine Zeta-Jones won Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical for A Little Night Music and Katie Finneran won Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical for her portrayal of the hysterical Marge MacDougall in Promises, PromisesAmerican Idiot won for Best Scenic Design of a Musical and Best Lighting Design of a Musical, but it was Memphis that took home the Tony for Best Musical as well as Best Book of a Musical, Best Direction of a Musical and Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre.


Photo: J. Countess/

The Tony Awards were seeing Red literally; the play won the most awards of the evening including Best Play, Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play for Eddie Redmayne, Best Direction of a Play, Best Scenic Design of a Play, Best Lighting Design of a Play and Best Sound Design of a Play.  The revival of August Wilson’s Fences won the Tony for Best Revival of a Play, Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play for Denzel Washington and Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play for Viola Davis.  The beauty and talent of Scarlett Johansson lent itself well to the stage and garnered her Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play Tony for her performance in A View from the Bridge


Photo: J. Countess/

The main feature of any award show is the performances and the Tony Awards provide the best of any award show.  Audiences were wowed by performances casts of Memphis, Million Dollar Quartet, American Idiot and Fela!  Catherine Zeta-Jones delivered a powerful performance of the Sondheim standard “Send in the Clowns” and brought her husband, Michael Douglas, to tears.  This year marked the 64th anniversary of the Tony Awards and with it being a year away from the age of retirement I can confidently say that I see no departure any time soon.  Exciting and provocative shows like Next Fall, American Idiot and Fela! are breathing new life into Broadway and changing the ideas of what a production can do, and revivals like Fences, La Cage Aux Folles and A View from the Bridge show why a classic stage production has staying power.  Although Manhattan is battling through one of the worst global economic periods on record, Broadway proves why humans will always crave drama and a little night (or matinee) music. 

Top Photo:  Dimitrios Kambouris/

The Black President Leads Tony Nominations

F.A.M.E NYC told you that Fela! was the best production for 2009, and The American Theatre Wing agrees.  Fela! nabbed 11 Tony nominations including Best Musical, Bill T. Jones for Best Direction of a Musical and Best Choreography, Sahr Ngaujah for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical and Lillias White for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical.    The revival of La Cage aux Folles also grabbed 11 Tony nominations with Kelsey Grammer also vying for the Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical award

The revival August Wilson’s Fences garnered 10 nominations including Denzel Washington for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play, Viola Davis for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play, Kenny Leon for Best Directions of a Play and Branford Marsalis for Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre. 




Broadway goes to Radio City Music Hall as the Tony Awards air live Sunday June 13 on CBS.  To view a list of all the nominees please visit  Good luck to all the nominees and we at F.A.M.E NYC will have our fingers crossed for Fela!