Confession: I had yet to see “Fences” on stage. This was my first time. Don’t take my black card yall! I did see “Jitney,” “King Headley,” etc. That to say, this was a win-win. I would have gone regardless of whether I wrote about it.
I love art in all its various forms, including theatre. I’ve been to many plays on and off Broadway, starting at an early age. I know good work; and this was good work. In fact, it was excellent, high-caliber community theatre that could go toe-to-toe with the best of ‘em in terms of performances.
August Wilson is inarguably one of the most prolific playwrights of our time. I applaud director Anita Jo Lenhart for leaving the script alone. The timeframe is the 1950s. A former Negro baseball league star excluded from the major leagues during his prime now works as a garbage man. Bitterness takes a toll on his relationships as his son wants his own chance to play in the major leagues.
This work is transcendent, touching the issues that touch us today – strivers, emotional distance, feelings of invisibility, protecting our children from a place of fear, the need for the “The Talk.”
Anyone who tackles an August Wilson play, especially one starring Denzel and Viola (no last name necessary), has to be on point. The audience seemed in agreement with these high standards because the cast netted a standing ovation.
I spoke to Mario Hoyle (Cory) and Willis Green (Troy Maxson), who were the lead actors. Willis has been acting since junior high, having gone to schools focused on performing. Mario majored in theatre in college and has never looked back. You may have seen him on a commercial or two as well. Neither is new to the local theatre circuit. However, this was Willis’ first leading role and I wanted to know if he felt the pressure to measure up?
Willis decided with intention not to carry around the weight of Denzel.
“Why would anyone want to come see someone act like someone else? I know that I have my own unique voice just as Denzel does and James Earl Jones does. They are all valuable.”
The stars aligned perfectly with this cast,” Willis said.
“This is an awesome milestone in my life. I couldn’t be more fortunate…they (the cast) are not only talented but wonderful people and a joy to be around.”
Mario shares the sentiment.
“This was one of my favorite experiences not only because of how well-rounded the cast was but because of how enriching the process was,” he said. “I saw so many correlations in my own life (to the character Cory)…
“It was challenging both physically and emotionally…going back to being a 17-year-old kid and wanting your father to see you. I was bringing forward Cory’s hurt and my hurt as well, using that to inspire people’s lives.”
You can catch this bit of well-done theatre through February 4th. For tickets and more information, visit www.theatrememphis.org.