September 29, 2009: “Fences”

Fact: The Huntington Theater production of August Wilson’s “Fences” is the best theater I’ve ever seen. (And I’ve been a theater-goer for over fifty-five years.) A strong, strong cast, a just-right set, and, of course, Wilson’s beautifully crafted characters whose individual, deepest desire is so exquisitely thwarted, make for an astonishing evening.

Thanks to a dear friend, who’d been able to get Huntington tickets from her work, I’d sat with three other women friends. At different times, something profoundly touched each of us; we took turns sobbing.

Here’s what made me grab my handkerchief—more than once: The painfully charged moments when I was compelled to wonder, as African Americans daily wonder: Is what’s happening here because of racism? Is the racist, 1957 world on the other side of the fence what’s really going on, here? Because Wilson has created situations where you simply don’t know. His characters, particularly the main character (whose resemblance to their fathers made two of my theater companions weep) is so beautifully written, moment to moment it’s often impossible to ascertain if the unfolding conflict, screw-up, action is because of the guy’s all-too human choices and foibles or because he’s a black man oppressed by a racist world.

To absolutely take in that moment-to-moment confusion, a confusion lived out by every person of color in this country, was horrible, terribly unsettling—and profound.

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