Resentment over having come along "too early" to build a career in baseball as a black man keeps Troy from acknowledging that conditions may be better for his son, who has a chance to go to college on a football scholarship: "There ought not never have been no time called too early!" he seethes. Rose knows Troy's faults better than he does, and when she finally explodes in anger, the scene is heartrending: "You take," she tells him, "and don't even know nobody's giving!" In print, Fences carries an epigraph from the playwright: "When the sins of our fathers visit us / We do not have to play host. / We can banish them with forgiveness / As God, in His Largeness and Laws."
Stage Mollie Wilson O’Reilly Fertile Ground AuGust Wilson’s ‘fenCes’ A ugust Wilson touched off a vigor- as a set from TCG, The August Wilson is one example of how Wilson’s charac- ous debate in the theater world Century Cycle.) ters make sense of Christianity as both a when he declared, in 1996, that Such an ambitious goal might have source of inspiration and an inheritance “colorblind casting is an aberrant idea” yielded drearily didactic historical drama, from slavery. The plays are filled with and a tool of “cultural imperialism.” but Wilson’s plays are immensely enter- religious language, sometimes apocalyp- Wilson, one of postwar America’s most taining, with a compelling cast of charac- tic and urgent, at other times bitter and significant playwrights, was addressing ters and lyrical, expressive dialogue. All despairing. “God is in his heaven and he the national conference of the nonprofit but one of the plays are set in the Hill staying there,” Floyd Barton says in Seven organization Theatre Communications Section of Pittsburgh, where Wilson was Guitars. “He must be up there ’cause a lot Group (where I once worked). His force- raised. Some names and characters recur of things down here he don’t know.” A ful speech (later published as The Ground across the decades. Most of the action un- character in Jitney complains, “I’m tired on Which I Stand) got people arguing folds in spaces where families and neigh- of waiting for God to decide whether about race in the theater, and especially bors gather to talk: a backyard, a coffee he want to hold my hand.” Aunt Ester’s the practice of casting black actors in shop, a dining room. The plot’s progress faith is firm: “God don’t know nothing roles written for whites. is generally disguised in a free-flowing but the truth,” she counsels. “God got “Colorblind” is an unhelpfully re- stream of conversation, punctuated by beautiful splendors.” ductive term for a complicated reality. masterfully crafted speeches, hilarious The closest Wilson came to answering There are valid distinctions to be made and profound. And woven through it all Death of a Salesman was Fences, a grip- between, say, a mixed-race Shakespeare are the “truth-sayers”—characters whose ping domestic tragedy set in 1957. Fences company and—to cite Wilson’s main grasp on reality seems tenuous, but whose won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for drama example—“an all-black production of spiritual vision is intense. They are a (Wilson’s first; he also won in 1990 for Death of a Salesman.” For Wilson, the link to the “spirit world,” which Wilson The Piano Lesson), and it is currently on issue was about more than actors; the once explained is “the world that the Broadway in a splendid revival directed critical question was whose stories are characters turn to when they are most by Kenny Leon. It is the story of Troy deemed worthy. He bristled at the sugges- in need.” Maxson, a garbage collector, former tion that African-American artists like The cycle’s mysticism is centered on a baseball player, and ex-convict who has himself should aspire to the standards character called Aunt Ester, a “conjure built a solid living from nothing, and of white European culture, as though woman” who claims to be centuries old who winds up destroying what he ought acknowledging the full humanity of and who represents the collective history to value most in his attempt to assert black Americans required erasing their and memory of African Americans. Her his identity. Troy’s life has been shaped
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