The fine art of fences

For Arizonans, the word “fence” might conjure many meanings. There’s the importance of pool fences in drowning prevention. The controversy surrounding fences along our border with Mexico. Even the fences some parents use in childproofing their homes.

When I hear talk of “fencing,” two things come to mind. Fencing as a college student studying in Heidelberg, Germany. And seeing one of the world’s more infamous fences, the Berlin Wall, before its demise.

Turns out the Berlin Wall is one of “the seven fence wonders of the world” according to an article appearing on the North American Fence Builders Association website. The Great Wall of China, where I enjoyed one of my more memorable walks as a 20-something, is another.

I got to thinking about “Fences” the other day when I came across a 2010-2011 season brochure for The Black Theatre Troupe while getting Lizabeth to an ASA “Lucky Stiff” rehearsal at Phoenix Theatre.

The esteemed theater companies are collaborating this season on a Dec 1-12 production of “Hairspray” — “a social commentary on the racial injustices of American society in the 1960’s” — to be held at Phoenix Theatre.

But first up for The Black Theatre Troupe, embarking on its 41st season of “preserving the past and embracing the future,” is August Wilson’s “Fences” directed by David J. Hempill. The work is one in a ten-part collection of Wilson plays titled “The Pittsburgh Cycle.”

The troupe’s season brochure describes the play as “both a monumental drama and an intimate family portrait.” The Pulitzer Prize winning work follows the tale of Troy Maxson, a garbage man in 1957 Pittsburgh, who once played for the Negro baseball league but “was excluded by segregation from the major leagues during his prime.” They also note that “Troy’s bitterness takes its toll on his relationships with his wife and son, who now wants his own chance to play.”

“Fences” was first performed in New York during 1987, with James Earl Jones in the role of 53-year-old Maxson — whose life is rife with conflicts centered on the issue of responsibility. The 2010 revival of “Fences” at the Cort Theatre on Broadway starred Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, earning each a Tony Award for their performance. “Fences” was honored as best revival of a play.

It’s a rare treat to enjoy such an esteemed work right here in the Valley so soon after the Broadway production closes. (Equally impressive is the Phoenix Theatre production of “Avenue Q” to open in the Valley Feb 23-March 20 of next year.)

“Fences” is one of the must-see Arizona productions of the season. It’s a tale of relationships and regret that resonates with people of all races — and The Black Theatre Troupe will surely deliver a powerful and profound performance.

Other 2010-2011 season offerings by The Black Theatre Troupe include not only “Hairspray” (Dec 1-12 with Phoenix Theatre), but also “Crumbs from the Table of Joy” by Lynn Nottage (Feb 18-27), “My Secret Language of Wishes” by Cori Thomas (April 1-10) and “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill” by Lanie Robertson (May 13-22).

In the words of David Hemphill, executive director for The Black Theatre Troupe, “we invite you to travel with us to experience the full meaning and power of stories, people and places that beautifully shape the values of our commonality.”


Note: The Black Theatre Troupe performs at The Playhouse on the Park, located on the ground floor of The Viad Tower at 1850 N. Central Ave. in Phoenix (enter the parking lot from Palm Ln.). Performances are held at 8pm on Friday and Saturday evenings and 3pm on Sundays. “Second week only” Saturday matinees begin at 2pm.  (“Hairspray” will be performed at Phoenix Theatre.)

Coming up: The season’s best offerings with social justice themes