Review: Lorraine Hansberry Theatre builds strong 'Fences'

Lorraine Hansberry Theatre is closing out its 27th season, its last in its downtown Sutter Street location, in grand style with August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “Fences.”

Under the helm of company artistic director Stanley E. Williams, the moving, always engaging production reveals why this drama about a black family in 1957 Pittsburgh earned so many accolades after it opened in New York in 1987. The show, part of Wilson’s famed cycle of 10 plays, each depicting a decade of the 20th century African-American experience, also won four Tony Awards, including Best Play, along with three Drama Desk Awards and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play.

The protagonist is Troy Maxon, a gregarious everyman of sorts. A former baseball player (who never made the integrated big leagues), he has a generic job as a trash collector.

He lives with his dutiful, loving wife and a football-playing son in high school; and is in close touch with a World War II-ravaged brother; a grown-up son by a woman he never married; and a good pal who joins him on the garbage route each day.

While Wilson’s language is sometimespoetic, his brilliant depiction of everyday life circumstances, and his characters’ emotions below their words, are what make “Fences” such an important, thrilling work.

Acting is strong all-around, particularly when the long setup of the first act pays off explosively in the second, as consequences of Troy’s actions, both long ago and more recent, begin to reverberate among his loved ones.

Alex Morris (who appeared on TV’s “Malcolm in the Middle”) provides the show’s strong anchor, showcasing Troy’s conflicts and complexities, and how his pride has blinded him to the needs of others.

Elizabeth Carter as Troy’s wife Rose shines particularly at the show’s climax, as does Axel Alvin Jr. as their son Cory, who’s fenced in by Troy’s negativity about his future as an athlete. As Gabriel, Troy’s trumpet-playing brother whose war wounds had long-lasting mental effects, Hosea Simmons Jr. stands out

The gray setting is the backyard of Troy’s home (effective design by Robert Broadfoot), where he’s in the process of building a fence, posing the show’s metaphorical question: Is the fence to keep people in or to keep them out? Exploring the boundaries and possibilities of that query is the beauty of Wilson’s modern classic.

IF YOU GO

Fences

Where: Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, 620 Sutter St., San Francisco

When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday; closes April 20

Tickets: $27 to $36

Contact: (415) 474-8800 or www.lhtsf.org

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