Part of his epic Pittsburgh Cycle of plays, August Wilson’s 1987 work Fences was highly honored after its debut performances, winning both a Tony Award for Best Play and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Now, over 30 years later, Fences remains a staple of theater companies around the country, and thanks to a 2016 film version directed by and starring Denzel Washington, the show may be more popular than ever.
So it makes sense that a new production of Fences— being performed at the Toledo Rep beginning on Friday, March 1st— would engender a great deal of excitement among area theatergoers, as well as actors.
“You cannot believe how many actors came for audition,” said director Irina Zaurov. “I was surprised. Because, I think, everyone knows this play, they’re so happy to work in this production.”
Fences tells the tale of a retired Negro League baseball player named Troy Maxson whose career was sabotaged by being unable to play in the major leagues. As his son prepares to possibly play sports himself, Troy’s anger at his own life’s path influences how he treats his family. “Now, he’s working as a garbageman in Pittsburgh, and this is in 1957,” Zaurov said. “So he was excluded, as a black man, from the major leagues, and now he is a very, very bitter man who brought his bitterness to his relationship with his wife and son.”
Zaurov, who grew up in the Soviet Union, saw the show, in one of its Broadway productions as well as the 2016 film, before getting the chance to bring her own vision of the play to the Toledo stage. “It’s just a classic play. I’m so happy that they asked me to direct this play.”
The show’s structure doesn’t lend itself to a big, flashy production— the set consists of one backyard in Pittsburgh— but Zaurov said the play’s characters and ideas fill the stage with an energy all their own. “I have [an] absolutely amazing set designer,” Zaurov said. “But the dialogue, every character’s, reaches so deeply— the dialogue takes you inside of their life, and how they communicate with each other.”
“It’s mostly about relationships, how we treat each other, if someone didn’t have a good past. I seeparallels with my own life back in the Soviet Union, when people were excluded from some colleges or some good careers. So, I have some parallels with this.”
Zaurov also noted how this work fits well into the Toledo Rep’s emphasis this season on diversity, which has also included a production of the celebrated musical Fun Home, which dealt with issues of sexuality. “Our community represents diversity, and this is wonderful. I’ve been here for 25 years, and I don’t recall a cast of 100% African American actors in our community theatre.”
But no matter what life experiences her audiences bring with them into the theater, Zaurov said she hopes Fences will cause people to reflect a bit about how they treat the people they care about. “What I’m hoping that people [take] from the show is to think about their life, how they treat each other, how they communicate with their children. This is a family matter, too.”
March 1-10 | 8pm, Thursdays-Saturdays | 2:30pm, Sundays
$20, general | $18, students and seniors.
The Toledo Repertoire Theatre, 16 10th St.