Fences

Denzel Washington hits a homer in August Wilson's satisfying drama.

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  • BAD SPORTSMANSHIP Washington, right, tries to keep Chalk out of the game.

BAD SPORTSMANSHIP Washington, right, tries to keep Chalk out of the game.

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5

What would American drama be without bad dads? Dangerous patriarchs rampage through the classics of Eugene O’Neill, Arthur Miller and Sam Shepard...and let’s not forget Troy Maxson, the bitter ex-ballplayer looming over August Wilson’s Fences. This myth-making, big-talking pop—newly incarnated by Denzel Washington—steps up to the plate for another inning in Kenny Leon’s warm, fine-textured and deeply engrossing revival.

Washington’s Troy is a cocky family man whose deferred dreams have hardened into profound resentment. After doing time in jail for murder, Troy’s hope of joining the major leagues never materialized. At 53, he finds himself hauling garbage in 1950s Pittsburgh; he’s a black man kept down by the white establishment, a would-be sports star who just missed integration. Troy is full of tall tales and worldly advice—some solid, some dubious. After 18 years, he still seems devoted to his wife, Rose (Davis), as he warns his football-playing son, Cory (Chris Chalk), to forget sports scholarships and learn a trade. Perhaps Troy is being practical, but more likely he’d rather quash his son’s ambition than watch him succeed.

As played with slow-burning intensity by the hugely charismatic Washington, Troy is a man caught between past and future: He has a grown son from a previous affair (Russell Hornsby Jr.) and soon will father another child by a new mistress. Stuck in a midlife crisis, he’s hounded by time, to the point that he soliloquizes about how he plans to build a fence around his house to keep Death out.

Leon elicits sensitive work from Hornsby and the stalwart Stephen McKinley Henderson as Troy’s loyal coworker friend, Jim Bono. And, with her second-act breakdown upon hearing that Troy has betrayed her, Davis blows the roof off the Cort with the spectacle of a soul in agony. No one does good-woman-done-wrong with Davis’s volcanic fury. Happily, Washington keeps pace with her on the other side of the temperature spectrum. When Fences first swept Broadway 23 years ago, James Earl Jones’s Troy was reportedly phenomenal. But Washington shows he can hit his share out of the park, too.

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Cort Theatre. By August Wilson. Dir. Kenny Leon. With Denzel Washington, Viola Davis. 2hrs 30mins. One intermission.

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