PlayMakers Repertory Company's production of Fences is the second memorable version of the August Wilson play this region has seen this year. Three months after Justice Theater Project's production graced St. Mary's School in February, PlayMakers announced that it would be performing it this fall. Comparisons between the two are inevitable—particularly given the appearance of local actor and journalist Thomasi McDonald in both productions—but in different roles.
Guest director Seret Scott avoids the bathos we occasionally encountered in the otherwise commendable Justice Theater production. But does she also whittle down the central character, Troy Maxson, in the process? The stress of years surely shows in Charlie Robinson's studied performance as Troy, along with the fatigue and the long-lived anger at being denied a chance in major league baseball due to racism. But where John Rogers Harris' performance in the role on the St. Mary's stage moved me to describe him as "an angry, profane, drunken god, hurling Wilson's Pulitzer Prize-winning invective like thunderbolts," Robinson's Troy is a seething volcano instead, one whose eruptions are fewer, certainly more human-sized—and touched comparatively, on occasion, by a sense of anticlimax.
Kathryn Hunter-Williams is strong and stoic—occasionally, perhaps too much so during the revelations of the second act—as his wife, Rose. And strong supporting work from Yaegel Welch and Erik LaRay Harvey abut Ray Anthony Thomas' poignant take on Gabriel. McDonald, who was so memorable as Gabriel in the Justice Theater production, displays little bandwidth this time as Troy's sinewy, always supportive friend, Bono.
Unsurprisingly, Jan Chambers' stage designs trump JTP's humbler set—the main qualitative difference between two largely comparable versions of this Wilson play.