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“Fences” at Costa Mesa Playhouse

Renowned play showcases the struggles of building a life and home in a predominantly white and racially stratified urban American world.

By Anne Reid

“Fences” is about Troy Maxson, a former star of the Negro baseball leagues who now works as a garbage man in 1957 Pittsburgh. Excluded from the major leagues during his prime, Troy's bitterness takes its toll on his relationships with his wife and son, who now wants his own chance to play ball.

The sixth play in August Wilson's Pittsburgh Cycle, “Fences” is part of a series of ten plays which chronicled the experiences and heritage of the African-American community in the 20th century. “Fences” is the winner of the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play.

In writing “Fences,” Wilson attempts to explain his message to the world, which implies that any race ought to protect its culture by building up invisible fences as a protection for its culture, and its identity. “Fences” teaches lessons about feeling taken for granted, living with choices, and facing death and forgiveness.

“It's been long overdue for us to produce one of August Wilson's works on our stage. For our first Wilson play, I wanted to bring one of my favorites to our audience,” said Michael Serna, Costa Mesa Playhouse’s Artistic Director. “This is an important piece of American Theatre and one of his finest works. It's a play everyone should see in their lifetime.” 

Damon Rutledge (Photo by Michael Serna)

“Fences” examines generational trauma and black masculinity in the shadow of racial discrimination at the dawn of the modern Civil Rights movement in America. The play begins in the summer of 1957, just over a year after the end of the Montgomery Bus Boycott which brought a young Martin Luther King, Jr. into the spotlight and a few months before nine brave high schoolers would become the first black students to desegregate Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. The promise of real change for Black people in America began to feel possible for the first time since white supremacy brought about the fall of Reconstruction. But it is a promise that comes a little too late for Troy. With his dreams deferred, he diminishes and obstructs the dreams of those around him, especially his son, Cory.

“Fences” is one of my top 5 favorite plays, and I'm very excited to share this play with audiences who know it and those about to discover it for the first time. August Wilson is a legend of the American Stage and we're proud and honored to have his work on our stage finally,” said Serna.

In the play, Troy has damage inflicted on him, both physical and mental abuse from a parent, running away and being on his own from a young age, and succeeding in fulfilling the role of being a provider and a protector for his family in a way that his father never did. It is in this overcoming that Troy fails to see his emotional shortcomings, which lead to the choices he makes and the repercussions that profoundly affect his family.

From Left: Damon Rutledge and Taj Young (Photo by Michael Serna)

On selecting the director for such an important work, Serna didn’t have to look far. “I've been a big fan of Rovin Jay’s work for years and have wanted to have him work with us for a while. His familiarity with August Wilson made this an obvious fit for this particular show,” Serna said. “I wanted someone who could understand the layers of this piece. He also directed his first show at Costa Mesa Playhouse many years ago, so this is a homecoming of sorts.” 

Jay agrees. “Coming back to Costa Mesa Playhouse is like a homecoming. Not only did I direct my first show at the playhouse, “Once on this Island”, but as a young actor, I performed in musicals there as well,” he said.

The play is truly inspirational and special to the cast and crew, and they are excited to show it to audiences. “Fences” is more personal to me than it ever has been before. When we open on May 17th, I will have just turned the age that Troy is in the show,” said Jay. “ Along with the recent passing of my own mother, it has encouraged me to look deeper into my life and recognize the damage that was done with how I was brought up.”

Anne Reid is a writer, public & community relations expert, and theatre mom.


Costa Mesa Playhouse

661 Hamilton Street, Costa Mesa, CA

May 17 - June 9, 2024

From Left: Damon Rutledge and Van Hudson Jr. (Photo by Michael Serna)

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