Sunday, December 1, 2013
Play Review: Dr. Ayodele Nzinga's production of August Wilson's Fences
August Wilson's Fences is a riveting drama about life and death in America, with the focus on the North American African community in Pittsburg, PA. Dr. Ayodele Nzinga's production of Fences is her sixth in the ten play cycle of Wilson. She is a leader among those directors who have ventured to do the entire cycle. There have been more readings of his play cycle than productions.
We must congratulate Dr. Nzinga for a career of persistence in the thespian tradition of the play must go on, even when there is little or no money to do a production. Her Lower Bottom Playaz is not only her "baby" but the crew includes most of her six children either on stage, running lights and sound and handling the door. In her 12th season, her children must be considered professional, especially since she finds the means to pay them.
For years Ayo was content to do her work on an outside stage in the yard of a former convent known as the Prescott Center/Thea Bowman Theatre. Rarely did she do productions beyond her outside theatre that was often freezing cold and sometimes interrupted by gun shots and arguments from the neighbors.
It was a pleasure to see her production tonight at the African American Museum/Library. The play opened late due to a line stretching outside the door. This was a happy feeling for Dr. Nzinga, especially since it was a paying crowd. The play opened before a packed house.
As per the play, we love the writing of August Wilson, especially since he is compared to me. One of my daughters saw his Joe Turner's Come and Gone and asked me was he stealing my lines. I told her no but he did/does sound like me in utilizing the common Black language, not as raw as another PA native, Ed Bullins, whose many plays deal with life in ghettoes of Philadelphia. For sure, August Wilson extended aspects of the Black Arts Movement's dramatic tradition.
I've told Ayodele I find Wilson sometimes longwinded in his storytelling. She replied, "And so are you!" For me, the play didn't begin until the second half. The first half could have been deleted except for the exposition of characters. The second half begins with the revelation of the husband being unfaithful. This is the most critical matter in the play and the script moves rapidly to the conclusion
although we think August Wilson really didn't know how to deal with the subject other than in the traditional manner of the wife getting rid of him, although she did adopt the child after the mother died during childbirth. Of course my Mythology of Pussy and Dick is an attempt to transcend traditional reactions to so called sexual improprieties. We suggest with spiritual consciousness we will be able to work through all problems in relationships. In Fences, the wife tells her husband what if she had wanted to meet someone who could make her laugh as the other woman did for her husband. Why did she need to remain solely devoted to her husband? The play raises more questions than answers and some playwrights are content with raising questions and letting the audience find answers.
Adimu Madyun has come of age with the Lower Bottom Playaz. In Fences he had the opportunity to expand and express his talent in the lead role of Troy. He has become so familiar with the language of Wilson that it appears it is his own, the words come effortlessly from his lips, said in a strong voice that commands authority. His character can only be described as a scoundrel and he prepared us for his fateful meeting with death, apparently the only end befitting the scoundrel
Kenitra Love as the wife Rose, was awesome and powerful as the dutiful wife. We felt her pain as the mate of an unfaithful husband who was persistent in his patriarchal domination and ignorance, which may be one and the same.
Harold Desmond and Bono, Troy's friend, performed one of his biggest roles to date. He held his own as the friend of Troy who warned Troy to do the right thing with his wife as per the other woman.
Luchan Baker as Gabriel, the mentally ill brother of Troy, was outstanding in revealing the thoughts and behavior of the mentally ill. We see the racism of the white society that constantly jailed him but released him upon payment of a fine for being crazy. His role was a lite motif on the theme of death.
Koran Jenkins as Lyons has grown up in the Lower Bottom Playaz. He performed his role with skill and a subtle power that is his own confident way of approaching a script.
The young man playing (don't have his name at press time) Cory, the mother's son by a previous marriage, was compelling in his role, including his confrontations with stepfather Troy who seemed to block the son at every turn.
This was a great production and raises the bar for Ayodele Nzinga as the Bay Area's consummate director/producer/actress/poet/playwright.