To say that Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington) is a man of many words, doesn’t seem to quite do him justice.
The central character of August Wilson’s “Fences” is nothing if not loquacious, but it’s the meaning behind those words and stories (for everything) that really defines him.
Of course, while Troy is talking, there’s plenty to be done—fences to be built (Yes, there’s a literal fence, and a metaphorical one), children to be raised, a brother to be cared for (Mykelti Williamson), and so on and so forth.
Still, he certainly does have a way with words. Whether he’s chumming it up with his friend Mr. Bono (Stephen McKinley Henderson), or talking his way into a promotion to garbage truck driver, or bemoaning his unrealized potential for baseball glory.
However, living in 1950s Pittsburgh, Troy knows the deck was and is stacked against him, though his wife Rose (Viola Davis) and son Cory (Jovan Adepo) continually try to show him things are changing, but not fast enough for Troy. And who can blame him?
For those unfamiliar with the work of August Wilson, I’ll add that this kind of barely coming up for air dialogue is not uncommon, and Mr. Washington’s direction and delivery of the material is quite remarkable. In many ways, the film has maintained a theatrical unity in its pacing, and while I’m sure that’s jarring for some viewers, this viewer quite enjoyed it. And truly, apart from a few new cast members and a new director (Denzel himself), much of this film will look identical to anyone who caught the show during it’s Broadway revival in 2010. Even the author of the screenplay remains August Wilson, who began work on the adaptation before his death in 2005.
And as was the case at the Tony Awards, I do believe Ms. Davis will be going home with a statuette on Sunday evening, and rightfully so. She is the other half of the relationship that defines this entire production, and frankly, the show would not work without Rose. She is forgiving of Troy’s flaws, she smiles at his long-windedness and respects his (questionable at times) approach to disciplining Cory, but this wonderful, strong woman has a breaking point, and when she reaches it, your heart will break right along with hers. Not that she shows it, she is ever the pillar of grace and dignity—truly magnificent.
Yes, that’s right, “Fences” may be the story of Troy Maxson, but it is Rose that makes Troy and this movie reach new heights.