By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Troy and Rose have made a good home together, or so it seems in the beginning. Oldest son Lyons (Che Ayende) drops by on Fridays for a sawbuck loan, but he's slowly making his way as a musician. Teenager Cory (Robert Christopher Riley) has college recruiters interested in signing him to a football scholarship, something Troy is dead set against. He thinks he's protecting Cory from the hard knocks of a sports career, but the kid's convinced his dad is threatened by his talent and ambition. Get a job at the A&P, Troy orders his son. Learn a trade. Do something safe that pays the bills, a sentiment right out of the post-war Eisenhower years.
Eventually Troy stops swinging for the fences—except for that one last romantic fling with the never-seen Alberta—and as the story gets darker, it's clear that the soul-killing pressure of family responsibility is wearing down the big man. Willy Loman shifted all of his unfulfilled dreams to the shoulders of son Biff. With relentless bullying, Troy does just the opposite with Cory, stifling his son's idealism about the future.
He drives Cory away. And Rose. And his own brother Gabe (the superb Ray Anthony Thomas), a brain-damaged peddler who carries a trumpet to ward off the "hell hounds" nipping at his heels. Recurring in many of Wilson's plays are mentally ill male characters who serve as mystic oracles able to see into other dimensions. Such men turn up in King Hedley II (my favorite in the Wilson cycle) and Joe Turner's Come and Gone, given a beautiful production last year at Fort Worth's Jubilee Theatre. Gabe remains peripheral in Fences until suddenly he's center stage at the play's dramatic high point.
James Earl Jones gave a career-changing performance as Troy Maxson in that 1987 Broadway debut of Fences. At DTC, there's some of Jones' boom and gloom in Wendell Wright's Troy, but he makes the role his own through carefully placed physical adjustments as the years pile up on the character. The rise and fall from dignified, virile patriarch to broken man is acted by Wright in the way he moves even more than through the words he says. Wright's breathing changes as he turns the volume down on Troy's life force. His leonine head grows heavier. He visibly deflates. In the end he's a tired old ballplayer, benched for good. Like all flawed heroes, he is terrible and great. And unforgettable.