Carl Lumbly isn’t the only reason to see the new Marin Theatre Co. production of “Fences,” although his portrayal of Troy Maxson in August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama burns with a singular intensity.
Whether he’s recalling his moments of glory in baseball, battling prejudice in pre-civil-rights Pittsburgh, or engaging in a standoff with Death itself, Lumbly suggests both the everyman appeal and the mythic grandeur of Wilson’s troubled hero.
Yet much of the pleasure of Derrick Sanders’ moving revival is seeing the well-cast ensemble surrounding Lumbly’s performance in this great American classic.
“Fences” was one of the early works in Wilson’s cycle of 10 plays — he wrote one for each decade of the 20th century, all set in the Hill District of Pittsburgh — and it remains a powerful evocation of the black experience.
It’s 1957, and Troy, a former Negro League player who came along too soon to benefit from Jackie Robinson’s breakthrough, is working as a garbage collector, struggling to support his family and maintain his home. (J.B. Wilson’s excellent set centers on the run-down house, framed by a single scraggly tree and a rocky stairway used for entrances.)
He’s a good provider, one who takes his responsibilities seriously, and Lumbly shades his early scenes with pride and affection — for his wife, Rose (Margo Hall), and his friend Jim Bono (Steven Anthony Jones).
Still, Troy can’t escape his legacy — the abusive father who cast him out as a teenager, the term he served in prison — and his simmering anger, persistent womanizing and insistence on thwarting the ambitions of his sons Cory (Eddie Ray Jackson) and Lyons (Tyee Tilghman) infuse the play with bitterness.
On opening night, Sanders’ 2½-hour staging took a little time to coalesce. By the second half, though, the cast locked in. Hall is magnificent as Rose; in all the times I’ve seen this play, I’ve never seen an actress sound the depths of the character’s devotion, sorrow and righteous anger so clearly.
Jackson makes Cory’s pivotal scenes wrenching. Jones plays Bono with warmth and humor, and Tilghman gives Lyons an aptly jittery quality.
Adrian Roberts exudes pathos as war-wounded uncle Gabriel; Makaelah Bashir and Jade Sweeney alternate as Raynell. Through it all, there is Troy — tragic, fiery, complex. Lumbly has made a welcome return to local stages in recent seasons, and he inhabits this role with a larger-than-life majesty.
Presented by Marin Theatre Co. in association with Lorraine Hansberry Theatre
Where: 397 Miller Avenue, Mill Valley
When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays, 2 and 8 p.m. most Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays; closes May 11
Tickets: $37 to $58