Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Book Review: FENCES, August Wilson

August Wilson
Plume, 1986

"Can't visit the sins of the father upon the child."

A few summers back, August Wilson's play, FENCES, was performed at a local theater. I missed every performance. That was upsetting. I love seeing plays. Recently, I saw that FENCES was being made into a major motion picture with Denzel Washington. With renewed interest, I ordered the play, and read it in one sitting.

FENCES is set in the 1950s. The Acts mostly take place on Fridays. Payday. On the porch of a small house, with a dirt yard, we meet Troy Maxson, his wife Rose, their son Cory, Troy's other son, Lyons, and Troy's disabled brother, Gabe, and, additionally, Bono, Troy's lifelong friend.

Unfortunately, Troy is not a likeable man. Although he'd lived a hard life, his life is spent in the past. Despite having left home at fourteen, and spending fifteen years in prison for murder, he married, landed a good job as a garbage man, and started a family. His once dreamed of playing professional baseball. Too many things were stacked against him. The fact he was black became the tallest obstacle, and an impossible hurdle.

Hard working, Troy has little time for his boys. Lyons is in his thirties, and doesn't work. He is a musician, and despite having no money, and begging for cash from his father, it is clear Lyons wants to, in some way, salvage his relationship with his father. His constant pleas for Troy to come down to the club where his band plays scream for attention that time, and again, Troy ignores.

Rose's and Troy's son, Cory, is athletic. His football playing might land him a scholarship into college. A recruiter is anxious to discuss terms with Troy. Determined his son is living in a fantasy, Troy continually gives Cory a hard time, setting unrealistic goals with little care of the consequences.

Gabe, Troy's younger brother, fought in World War II. A plate in his head has him believing he is the Arch Angel Gabriel. The government checks helped Troy make ends meet, but when Gabe moves out, hard feelings set in.

Troy likes to make everyone believe he is smarter than he is. He wants people to know he is strong, and in charge. He is the King of his Castle. Ruler over Rose, and Cory, and even Lyons. What he says, goes. He is harsh, and brash, and obnoxious. Calloused, and careless.

His mistakes continually pile up. He makes one bad call after another. And then, when his reality is there facing him, ready to wrestle -- he has no one to blame for the outcome, except himself.

"You went back on yourself Troy. You gonna have to answer for that."

The thing is, I don't think Troy ever truly gets it. I don't think he ever understands that he was the problem. And that, for me, was the tragedy. That was what made this story so sad, and depressing. Troy never got it. He just never got it.

FENCES is a fantastic, taut play. I am going to have to read more August Wilson. No doubt about it. The messages were there. Clear, and not so subtle, and I loved the story.

Phillip Tomasso
Author of the Severed Empire Series, and
The Vaccination Trilogy

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