Pleasurable Pilgrimage

8pm Thu-Sat, 4pm Sun
Through Feb 25
$16 general; $13 student, senior, military
108 Blue Star
Literary canons are somewhat unfashionable these days. Words like “classic” and “masterpiece” reek of Old World Patriarchy and artists and audiences alike tend to resist the notion that Americans have a shared culture. We don’t read the same books (if we read books), we don’t go to the same films, we don’t play the same sports, we don’t watch the same news, and some might wonder if we even share the same history. Thanks to targeted marketing we don’t even get bombarded by the same ads anymore. But I believe we do have an American Culture — and if we don’t, then we should.  

It’s not that I have some misplaced nostalgia for Tom Mix serials and Mae West double features (maybe just a little), but I think we would be better served if we made an effort to expand the canon instead of burying it; which brings me to Exhibit A: August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Fences. In fact, the whole of Wilson’s Pittsburgh Cycle (10 plays, each covering a decade of the 20th century) speaks to an American audience in a way that Shakespeare’s Plantagenet Cycle must have affected an Elizabethan audience. To put it in old-fashioned terms: the late August Wilson was a Great American Playwright and Fences IS a Great American Play.

Of course, going to see a Great American Play is a bit like going on a pilgrimage. It’s an act of faith, a sort of cultural communion, a journey into the American soul. There are expectations: salvation, redemption, catharsis, and, oh yeah … entertainment. That’s a lot of spiritual weight to put on a little play about some folks in Pittsburgh in the 1950s — but it’s a weight Wilson shouldered easily and which places Fences in the same league as Williams’s Streetcar and Miller’s Salesman. And it’s a reputation that The Renaissance Guild’s production of Fences at Jump-Start upholds brilliantly. This is one classic that hasn’t been done to death, so it’s refreshing to get a chance to actually see it.

In a pilgrimage you know where you’re going, you’re just not sure what you’ll see on the way there, and like any true journey of faith seeing this play is not a matter of duty, but a real joy. Antoinette Winstead has ably directed this masterpiece without draining it of the life that made it a classic in the first place and she has a real way with these remarkable performers. Charles Anthony Riley captures all the pathos and spirit of Troy Maxson, an ex Negro Leagues baseball player/patriarch struggling to do a little better than get by. Riley and Tony Campbell (as Troy’s best friend Bono) get the play off to a rollicking start and it would be worth it to just watch those two riff for a couple of hours.

Jacarri Williams gives a passionate and nuanced performance as Troy’s younger son Cory, and 9-year-old Talyce Nicole Hays (Raynelle) works with him to steal the show in the last scene. Justin Keown, Stephanie Hicks, and Jericho English round out this superb ensemble as Troy’s older son Lyons, his wife Rose, and his shell-shocked brother Gabriel — each of them shining at one time or another. The actors and director take us from laughter to heartbreak without missing a beat and without forcing the drama. The only distractions were some overly lengthy scene changes and a couple of slow lighting cues, but missing this production because of that would be an act of cultural negligence.

So, make the journey and take a look at America’s soul in this great play — you might just find something beautiful there. 


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