Meanwhile, we'd been wanting to see "Fences" at CalShakes, and suddenly realized that it was closing today. So we went to the closing performance this afternoon at 4:00. I'm pretty sure this is the first time I've been to the Bruns Amphitheater when the show was not at night. It was still light out when we left at the end.
Of course, buying tickets at the last minute pretty much guarantees sitting in the back corner, or splitting the group into random single seats. We chose the back corner, which was nice because it was in the shade from the start. I love outdoor theater, and it felt pretty good for this play, since much of it takes place outside the house. On the other hand, I have a feeling some of the production design gets lost in the daylight.
I'll also note that this was my first time out to CalShakes since their new artistic director, Eric Ting, took over. I didn't notice any major changes, but I have my eyes open. I suspect I will go to at least one of the two remaining shows this season, too.
The PlayFirst off, this is an August Wilson play, and I really like his writing, so I was bound to like the play. And the central character is a former Negro League baseball player, so it hits on another of my favorite things.
As part of Wilson's set of plays set in Pittsburgh in each decade of the 20th century, "Fences" hits a really great spot: the late 1950s, into the early 60s. The character Troy Maxson was a talented baseball player, but too old to reach the Major Leagues once the color barrier gets broken. Perhaps his criminal record plays a part as well. In any case, as an illiterate black man in a changing world, he find steady work where he can: collecting garbage. His own fight against the color barrier in the trash-collector union is a factor in the play, but mostly it's about his relationships with his wife and his sons, including his struggle to deal with their attempts to succeed beyond what he could achieve.
It's a strong, tightly-written play, well structured and presented, and a terrific platform for the actors to really dig into the heart of the relationships. Aldo Billingslea and Margo Hall as Troy and his wife, Rose, are very good. Their chemistry works well as a couple married 18 years who encounter and deal with a number of crises. They both give a lot of depth to their characters.
Minor GripesOn the whole, I thought it was a terrific production, and I rather wish I could have seen it at night with the full lighting design and such. I was a little puzzled by some of the set design, particularly the interior walls that are absent in the opening scenes, then inexplicably rise and remain for the rest of the show. I realize it's because there were things to see in the rear of the house early on, but truly, they weren't that critical; they could have left the walls out entirely and it would have improved my sight lines, for sure.
And finally, I have to mention the microphones. As I have noted previously, I am not a fan of mikes on actors in plays. I realize that the crowd at CalShakes is older, and that an outdoor stage with no back makes it difficult to project into the audience. But there is wind, and it was really distracting a number of times in this production. Wind on microphones is a known issue, and there are solutions, but we got a lot of it today. Also, I don't know whether it was issues with the mikes or some other aspect of the sound system, but there were times when characters' voices just about disappeared for a while. And that's not supposed to happen.
All in AllThat's really it, though. Good performances up and down the cast. Nice set design and costumes that made it feel like the right period. And of course, a terrific August Wilson play, with the wonderful language and structure that I'm accustomed to, well-delivered by the cast.
I wish I could recommend that you go see it, but as noted at the outset, this was the closing performance. But good stuff from CalShakes.