Saturday, May 8, 2010

Broadway Theater Review: Fences with Denzel Washington

Fences Can Keep People in, or Out
By Lauren Yarger
The fence behind the Maxson’s Pittsburgh home in August Wilson’s Fences is more than just a symbol of the people it keeps in or out of the family’s circle. For Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington in an explosive performance), each post and each plank represents one of his poor choices that has built a boundary between him and the people he loves.

The gatekeeper with figurative control over who gets to be on which side of the fence is his wife, Rose (a marvelous Viola Davis who probably will take the Best Actress Tony for this performance). She has brought happiness to Troy’s life, giving him a son, Cory (Chris Chalk), being a mother to his oldest son from a previous marriage, Lyons (Russell Hornsby), and helping to look after her husband’s war-damaged brother, Gabriel (Mykelti Williamson).

This play, which won the Pulitzer Prize, is one of 10 written by Wilson depicting the black experience in Pittsburgh decade by decade. Fences is set in 1957.

At first, the family is happy and Troy’s friend and work mate Jim Bono (Stephen McKinley Henderson) enjoys hanging out with the family, sharing jokes and few drinks with Troy on Friday paydays when Lyons usually visits looking for a handout to support his musician lifestyle. Troy entertains the gang with stories of his days in the Negro Baseball League and of how he just missed a chance to play in the Majors. Cory shares his father’s athletic ability and hopes to play professional football, but Troy refuses to allow it, insisting instead that his son hold down a job.

Troy’s selfishness continues to guide his decisions and when his affair with another woman results in a daughter (played later by Sacha Stewart Coleman and Eden Duncan-Smith at alternating performances), he just might have put a lock on the fence gate and separated himself from his family forever. The play, tightly directed by Kenny Leon, is a brilliant, poetic look at self destruction and the power of family and forgiveness.

Designer Santo Loquasto expertly shows the exterior of the house as well as a glimpse into the kitchen giving the set a nice depth. Scene changes are enhanced by some really pleasing jazz composed by Branford Marsalis.

Don’t get caught outside the fence on this one. The play and performances are well worth it.

Fences runs through July 11 at the Cort Theatre, 138 West 48th St., NYC. For tickets, call (212) 239-6200.

Christians might also like to know:
• Sexual dialogue
• God’s name taken in vain
Special note: Women, the line for the inadequate restroom at the Cort at intermission is insanely long. There’s a good chance you won’t be able to get in before the curtain for Act 2 is going up, so plan accordingly.

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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