Good fences make good neighbors, says Robert Frost. But fences do considerably more. Fences keep things out. They keep things in. They mark boundaries. They divide. And not all fences are visible to the naked eye. For Troy Maxson, a fence is what he used to hit a ball over back in his glory days when he played baseball in the Negro League, and what his wife wants him to build for their back yard now, in 1957. But other fences are in his life, too - the fence around the prison he was once in; the fence separating himself from his son, Cory; the fence dividing white garbage truck drivers from the black garbage can collectors in Pittsburgh.
August Wilson's Tony-winning FENCES is on stage at Open Stage of Harrisburg, one more link in its chain of now-annual performances of Wilson's Pittsburgh Cycle - or Century Cycle - of plays about the human condition, set in Wilson's hometown of Pittsburgh, but that really could be almost any middling or larger city in twentieth-century America. Set in 1957 and written and on Broadway thirty years later, it tells Troy Maxson's story of working-class struggle, both at work and at home. A former Negro League player who never made it big, he sees no future for African-Americans in professional sports - despite Major League integration and Robinson's and Aaron's making it in integrated baseball, despite what his wife, son, and friends note as changing times. He's desperate to spoil his son's ambitions to play football, which could send him to college on a scholarship, because he sees no future in football for the boy. And he wants to improve his current lot by becoming a garbage truck driver, though he anticipates losing his job for even asking.
At Open Stage, Leonard Dozier plays Troy Maxson, a man who seems larger than life to everyone around him, especially the son, Cory (J.C. Payne), who has come to fear both his father and his father's shadow. Dozier plays Maxson as a bitter, driven soul - anxious to be responsible, to do the right thing, but not always sure what it is, or how to handle himself. The only thing he's sure of being the right thing is keeping his son bagging groceries at the A&P and keeping him away from college football recruiters... the one thing his son is sure will help him get out of his family's working-class grind. Sharia Benn plays Rose Maxson, Troy's wife, and is the standout among a fine cast - Benn is positively on fire as Rose, speaking truth to power even when power - Troy - is drinking and not listening. Benn brings strength, charm, and solid character to Rose, and in the process ignites the entire show.
Also noteworthy is Aaron Bomer as Troy's workmate and companion, Jim Bono. Bomer is one of those actors who can steal a scene by breathing. Bono's role for Maxson is as listener, confidant, and occasional moral advisor - whether Maxson is heeding Bono's word or not. Though he tries to do the right thing, Maxson has a serious habit of ignoring all good advice, provided by Rose and by Bono. Bomer's Bono is a cheerful listener, but not afraid to call it as he sees it; even in the simple act of sitting on the porch, listening to his buddy, audience attention is on Bomer, wondering when he'll speak his own truth. That attention is deserved; Bomer is a powerful presence on stage, though both here and in last season's JOE TURNER'S COME AND GONE, an often comforting one.