COURTESY THE ACTORS GROUP
Savada Gilmore, right, plays an athletic youth who earned a football scholarship, but whose father won't allow him to go to college, in "Fences." Safari Jones plays his younger sister.
The Chapman family might feel right at home taking in The Actors Group production of "Fences" at Yellow Brick Studio. August Wilson wrote 10 plays about the experiences of blacks in the 20th century, and in "Fences," which takes place in 1957, Wilson's true-to-life characters use the "N-word" frequently and in several contexts.
Presented by The Actors Group:
On stage: 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday; and 2 and 5:30 p.m. Sunday
Place: Yellow Brick Studio, 625 Keawe St.
Tickets: $15; discounts for seniors, students, and groups of 10 or more
Call: 550-8457 or visit honoluluboxoffice.com
It is used as an insult, an expression of camaraderie between friends, and at times simply as a term for blacks in general. When someone might say, "A man can't get a break," one of Wilson's characters might replace the word "man" with the "N-word."
Consider yourself warned about the vocabulary, but anyone who skips "Fences" for that reason will miss a superb performance of a thought-provoking modern American drama. As with some of the other plays in Wilson's "Pittsburgh Cycle," the experiences of the characters transcend racial and ethnic lines.
The struggle for equal opportunity is an experience that Asians, Hispanics and many European ethnic groups can relate to; the struggle between generations is experienced by modern Americans of all backgrounds.
Troy Maxson grew up dirt poor in the deep South in the first years of the 20th century, one child out of 11 in a family headed by a father whose credo was, "If you can sit at the table you can work." Troy left home in his early teens, did time in prison and enjoyed a successful career playing baseball in the Negro Leagues. Unfortunately, he had passed his prime by the time blacks were allowed to play in the major leagues.
Troy now works as a garbage man. As the play opens he is talking about a conversation he had with his white boss about why only white men are allowed to drive the garbage trucks.
Cory Maxson, Troy's youngest son, is a star on his high school football team and has been offered a college scholarship that could lead to a career in the NFL -- which also desegregated itself after World War II. Troy won't let his son play ball unless he also works after school, and refuses to sign the documents that Cory needs for his college scholarship. It seems that Troy doesn't want Cory to dream too big and make the same mistakes he did.
Curtis Duncan (Troy) is riveting as the designated villain -- and is all the more remarkable for the fact that he stepped into the role barely a week before the show opened. Duncan deftly balances Troy's deep character flaws with the man's heartfelt good intentions and his dogged determination to control at least one small bit of a cruel and unforgiving world.
Savada Gilmore (Cory), fresh off a stellar performance in the title role of "Kraken-Ka" at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, is compelling as a young man who sees his chance for a better life denied him by his father.
Director Derrick Brown distinguishes himself in a major supporting role as Troy's friend and drinking buddy, Wendy Pearson makes a powerful debut on the local stage as Troy's long-suffering wife, and Peter Montero gives a humorous portrayal of Troy's son by an earlier marriage.
Christopher B. Smith does an excellent job in the pivotal role of Gabriel Maxson, Troy's brain-damaged younger brother whose government disability payments provided Troy the money to buy a house for his family. Smith's loud yet nuanced performance helps make some of Troy's problematic decisions more understandable.