Carl Lumbly embodies in his Troy a man conflicted, scarred, yet hopeful, as
he keeps reinventing himself without a mirror reflection. There seems to be a
man inside his skin quietly bursting at his seams, which he guards closely, or
so he thinks. Like the shadowy figure Carl Jung references in his voluminous work
on consciousness, specifically the unconscious, Sherry Salman in her essay,
"The creative psyche: Jung's major contributions" (ed. P.
Young-Eisendrath; T. Dawson 1997) says often what is within psychic reach
is a "contradictory opposite" (p. 66-67). It is what is ignored
|Carl Lumbly (Troy Maxson), Margo Hall (Rose), |
Steven Anthony Jones (Bono) in August Wilson's Fences.
Photo Credit: Ed Smith.
"The struggle [Troy experiences, which eventually tears him apart] is part
of the difficult individuation process [the character's acceptance of his
strengths and weaknesses and how this plays into his human statement in the
world of ideas and consciousness; it is a marriage of the two, Troy's
unconsciousness and consciousness or perimeters of his psychic terrain in the
yard, at home, on the job and beyond (p.316-317)]." Salman says,
"this process strives not for perfection, but for wholeness. The
'opposites within' are related to both willingness and conscience; adaptation
to the collective culture is not the ultimate goal" (p. 67). Troy says, he
just wants to be happy, to laugh and forget the burdens that often seem
oppressive and stifling.
And so we watch as he literally wrestles bodily with these demons that
sometimes pin him down and lay claim to his life. Lumbly brings physicality to
the work which externalizes this battle. We are not certain who will win, but
Lumbly's Troy is a fit opponent. Wilson's Troy though he embraces and
assimilates his psychic opposites, "the shadow and other unconscious
material,' it is never a surrender of his autonomy rather an acknowledgement of
the "wisdom of the wholeness of life and a [grudging] acceptance and love
of [his] fate. We watch him over the course of the play [metaphysically]
'dissolve and coagulate' [again and again]" (p. Salman 68).
Troy calls his shadow "Blue," a good hound dog. In a song he sings, a
refrain or overture in the work; Ole Blue teaches to Troy’s children the
lesson of overcoming. Troy carries this memory from his father— all the
goodness he has left of home except his brother Gabriel. Images hold within
themselves a healing force and Ole Blue gives Troy a way to articulate
reality as he experiences it (Salman 68). “You have to take the crooked with
the straight,” he tells him kids, he says to himself as he tries to hit a
homerun off a curve ball.
When we meet Troy he is coming home after a week on the job picking up garbage.
He has a fifth in his pocket which he shares with his buddy, Bono (Steven
Anthony Jones). The two men talk about the job, their wives and Troy's
relationship with the character Death. Jones's character brings out a
side of Lumbly's Troy absent when Troy speaks to his sons and to his wife.
There is a comfort in their fraternity Troy does not share with his family to
his detriment when they are all he has left.
Those Fridays with Bono anchor
Troy's soul. It is here that the masterful performance shifts into a space
where ritual and magic occur. There is an archangel in the play, injured in the
war, Troy's brother Gabriel (actor Adrian Roberts). Gabriel loves Troy and
tries to protect him, to sound heaven's alarm when danger is near, and to use
his sixth sense for recognizing Hell-hounds. Roberts calls Gabriel a shaman or
priest, a holy man. Stooped and a bit weary, Gabriel sells fruit, lives in the
basement of a neighbor's house which embarrasses Troy who feels responsible to
In the front of the house sits a
tree. We see Troy sit at its roots and pour libations there toward the end of
the play when he drinks alone, Bono gone. Imposing like Troy is to his family— Troy
fills the house and the lives of his wife and kids just as the tree fills the
yard—its limb sticking out like a hand asking for alms. Troy says when trying
to explain his feelings to his wife, Rose, that when he comes home from work on
payday, everyone is lined up on the porch with their hands out to him.
He never leaves them empty for long.
Troy keeps a string with a ball of
twine attached to the tree limb (snug in a gnarled hole) which he takes out and
swings his bat. Troy played on the Negro League teams with famous ball
players like Satchel Paige— he is bitter that he wasn't drafted into the major
leagues like Jackie Robinson whom he scoffs at as he says he could hit rings
Prison (enslavement) is why Troy
wasn't able to compete when he returned to society; at 40 he was too old.
Unperturbed in this instance and others, Troy has a way of shaping the world so
that it makes sense to him. We might call him a hero. He survived. He is a man
who takes risks, often getting knocked down, yet he recovers and gets back up
Troy's ability to trek back through and beyond his childhood conflicts and
trauma is evidence of his healing journey (Salman p. 64). In Troy Wilson shows
how dramatic and invasive childhood trauma is; how it grabs one spiritually in
a vise only death can relinquish. Troy tries to put as much psychic and
physical distance between himself and his father and the brutality he
experienced in his father's house, yet he carries this within him—he is his
Like the elder Maxson, Troy also commits great wrongs, and like his dad, regret
and remorse don't have a place in his universe— he doesn't have time to back
track. The absence of retrospection limits his mobility, stays his hand once Cory
is born, yet frees him once Rose stands up to him. "It is his
"psyche's self-regulating mechanism; regression and introspection are not
only potentially adaptive [here] but the sine qua non of healing. . . (Salman
p. 64 quoting Jung).
Ray Jackson (Cory) and Carl Lumbly (Troy Maxson) |
Hall (Rose). Photo: Ed Smith.
He tells stories about
death--wrestling with it and winning. He describes it as wearing a white sheet
with a pointed cap— It is always near like the tree in proximity to the house— there
is nothing there to keep it out and the fence project . . . continues
unfinished for most of the play. (The tree also reminds one of those that
bore strange fruit--the pointed hat reference to the KKK).
There is an underlying element of terror in Troy's life that never quite leaves
him feeling safe. He is a man who lives by the rules of the game. He calls it
baseball, but though he practiced and was a champion, he wasn't allowed to play
when his world dissolved and was reconstituted without him.
Troy's brother Gabriel keeps Death
at bay with his constant policing of the Hell hounds. The elder brother carries
a bugle attached to his belt. He brings Rose flowers and has a good word for
Lyons, Troy's elder son, who is a musician. Injured in the war, Gabriel lives
alone but visits often. He is a bit eccentric and people make fun of him,
especially when he speaks of heaven and his conversations with Saint Peter
about his brother Troy.
Margo Hall's Rose is the quiet
strength of the work. In this character Wilson composed a woman whom quietly
loves her man to death. She trusts him, yet he doesn't need trust, he needs her
to be the ball he keeps trying to hit out of the yard. He is trapped, and she
doesn't know it until it is too late. In Hall's Rose we see a love
bigger than betrayal. It is amazing, yet cautionary. We can only wonder how she
will raise Raynell, Troy's daughter (actress Makaelah Bashir).
Bono (Steven Anthony Jones), Troy's
best friend, rounds out a world filled with work and family responsibilities.
Troy seems determined to do better than his father, be a better man. There is
not much softness in Troy; he tries to at least make space for his family, yet
the rocky surface he calls love makes it hard to remain. There isn't much
laughter at home and one doesn't see Rose or her son with friends. Bono is the
Cut off – one wonders about the
absence of friends. Rose seems to be at home alone a lot. She seems to always
be waiting for Troy to return. She has willingly surrendered her life to him.
Cory, their son (excellently performed by actor Eddie Ray Jackson), does so
unwillingly. Troy is bright and challenges injustice. His wins set him apart
from his friends whom he misses. There is just one moment in the play where we
see him lose his composure and become violent. It's the unraveling of
everything he tried to keep together— nothing is ever the same again.
However, his unraveling actually
frees his family— the god, Troy, as in Trojan, no longer looms over them,
blocking the sunshine. Rose admits to Cory when he is an adult that his father
didn't ask her to give over her dreams when she met him. This was her
contribution to the union, a lesson she learned dearly— Lambs are roasted and
consumed, not kept as house pets.
Wilson's Fences also shows
how even if a fence is supposed to hold what one values within its boundaries,
the world has a way of intruding. Troy tried to deny progress and change,
despite living under a roof with evidence to the contrary— Cory, his son, who
would have made him proud if Troy had dismantled the fencing around his mind
Troy speaks of Rose and their
eighteen years together— he admits she saves him when the draft doesn't pick up
for the team; however, he needs to save himself. His frequent encounters with
death are just a fence he needs to climb over or dismantle. Similarly racial
discrimination on the job and his wounded brother Gabriel are all fences.
Fences is the story of a man and a family post-emancipation trying
to be free, but erecting fencing around themselves which keep each of them from
touching each other genuinely. The edifices between each of them—Troy and Rose,
Troy and Cory, Troy and Lyons—bar such interactions.
Tilghman's portrays Lyons, Troy's first son conceived when he was young and
poor. When Troy comes back into his firstborn's life after prison, Lyons is
almost grown he tells us when we meet him as an adult. His father doesn't
approve of his artistic career. Lyons is a musician, and like his Uncle
Gabriel, he also plays a horn.
greets his nephew, "Lyons, King of the jungle"— and growls with a
clawing motion. The two laugh. Troy is surrounded by lions and angels, perhaps
this is why though he falters he is able to get up? Lyons loves his dad, even
when every word Troy speaks to and about him is negative. Lyons still visits
his father's house nonetheless. Unlike Cory, Lyons wants fathering. He misses
those years when he had to figure out what it meant to be a man and the fences,
once again, prevent Troy from embracing his son, Lyons's, longing for absolution
|Margo Hall (Rose), Adrian Roberts (Gabriel) and Carl Lumbly (Troy
in August Wilson's Fences at the MTC. Photo: Ed Smith.
way Carl Lumbly portrays Troy is as a heroic man without heart. Troy tries to
stir it with Bono, his prison buddy and now coworker at the garbage company. We
see his amorous advances towards Rose and his attempt to stir sweetness in
their bed. Lastly there is his son, Cory, whom he has big plans for. Cory is
his hope for the future, but fenced in by his own traumatic experience with a
father whose love was brutality, Troy misses an opportunity for happiness at
home with his wife and son.
The fencing he is building around
the house, which is a task that isn't completed until almost the end of the
play is perhaps resisted, because it is a further indication of the trapped
emotions and feelings Troy is victim to. Why can't he tell his son he loves
him? Why can't he go to his son Lyons's gig at the club? Is there a reason why
no one visits? What is it about Troy that is so intense and so hard that he
acts as his own barrier to the warmth and happiness he tells Rose he craves?
How does he or where does he find access to these spaces where air nor light
seem to permeate?
Every time I see this play Fences,
I think about it differently. In the Lower Bottom Players production,
directed by Dr. Ayodele Nzinga last year at the African American Museum and
Library, Oakland, I was drawn to the ceremony and ritual. In this production,
at Marin Theatre Company, directed by Derrick Sanders with a fantastic original
musical score composed by Chris Houston with kudos to design teammates: Will
McCandless, sound; J.B. Wilson, scenic; Christine Crook, costume; Kurt Landisman, lighting
(especially when Gabriel opens heaven's gates for Troy); I am drawn to
the barriers or fences. Troy is caged and his eventual emancipation injures all
involved. Is his freedom worth it or was Troy better off a slave?
In August Wilson's Fences, directed by Sanders at MTC, 397 Miller
Avenue, in Mill Valley, the answer depends on whom you ask (smile). Tickets are
$20 (all shows) for patrons under 30 years old, with identification. For
information call: 415.388.5208 or email:email@example.com
17, there is a free August Wilson’s
"Fences" Talk @ 1:00 p.m. at the Jewish Community Center of San
Francisco, 3200 California St., San Francisco.
24, Perspectives | Matinee only (show
at 1pm, pre-show talk at noon) A topical speaker (TBA) will offer insights into
the play. Bring your bag lunch. Coffee; cookies will be served.
28, August Wilson’s "Fences"
Talk @ 7 p.m. at Book Passage Marin, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd, Corte Madera.
Shows feature an After Words post-show Q&As with a member
of MTC’s artistic staff (often with one or more members of the cast) after
every performance, except on Saturday evenings, and Opening and Closing Nights.