As the Director
The play “Fences” by August Wilson has a plethora of messages that the author wanted to share with the audience. The play was released in 1986, and it is possible that at the time, its presentation of racial inequality issues was appropriate. However, in 2020, the younger viewers might not even know that, for instance, there used to be separate baseball leagues for black citizens. The discrimination in the workplace problem could be familiar to more people, but it does not occur in such obvious and blunt ways in modern society. Although this was undoubtedly an important message when the play was written, it might not have such a powerful effect now, due to the way it is conveyed.
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The point that does translate well into the lives of many people today is Troy’s behavior as a father and as a husband. He was a hardworking man, who genuinely wished to provide for his family, but felt like he achieved very little, and failed to give them what they needed most – love and support. He was an excellent baseball player but never got the chance to enter the Major Leagues. He worked at the sanitation department, where his most notable career advancement was winning the right to be a garbage truck driver. Most importantly, he claimed that he did not want his children to suffer the same fate as him, but became the largest source of their issues. By acting logically at all times, he disregarded the value of affection and alienated his offspring.
This timeless example spells out a call to action for every parent to consider. I want the audience to understand that even though character building is a crucial part of upbringing, it should not overshadow the essential responsibilities of a parent. Troy’s idea of making sure that people are “doing right by you” rather than worrying about them liking him might be beneficial in some environments, but it cannot be used in a family. A father must be supportive of his kids, even when they have made mistakes. Strict methods and harsh punishments could help teach responsibility and discipline, but they should not dominate all father-son interactions.
I chose “Fences” as the play to deliver this message because its plot revolves around the Maxson family dynamic. It offers a comprehensive view of both long-term and short-term consequences of improper parenting. The audience would be able to see how Troy’s aloofness pushed away his con Cory, and how their conflict affected the kid even eight years later when Troy died. The fact that Rose manages to convince Cory to forgive his father further contributes to the persuasiveness of the message. Moreover, it adds a new perspective on the issue of father-son conflicts, as Cory’s anger and spite had kept him from spending time with his parents for almost a decade. Finally, Rose’s caring and affectionate relationship with her family is a much-needed depiction of the positive influence of more lax parenting. The audience should see that it was her desire to keep her loved ones close that drove the plot of the play, and her empathy helped Cory find peace with his father.
Although some attributes of the play’s original script might not be understood by the modern viewers, changing the setting would detract from Troy’s story. The roots of the main character’s underwhelming sporting achievements and career advancement lay in the period in which he happened to be born. Had it not been for the painfully unfortunate timing, Troy would have seized his chance to become a professional baseball player. Perhaps this would not have changed his character completely, but he would undoubtedly have lost one of his primary sources of anger and frustration. For this reason, I have decided to stage the play without altering the script in any significant way.
As the Dramaturg
The story of Fences develops between 1957 and 1965 – a period in which several processes and significant historical phenomena took place. As signified by the fact that Troy could not play in the Major League because he was black, racial segregation was a major part of American society at the time. August Wilson was part of the black power movement, and many of his works paid close attention to the issues of discrimination in different periods. Fences was no exception to this, as it encapsulated a miniature version of the black rights movements of that era.
The location where the story unfolds is also far from random. The Maxson family lives in the Hill district of Pittsburg, the town where Wilson grew up, and where he set all of his plays. In the 1950s, it was a safe harbor for black people who were running from the savage and barbaric south. The City serves as a symbol for the country’s failure to protect its black citizens after the abolition of slavery. The number of black people living in poverty or turning to crime, which eventually leads them to jail, proves that they did not receive adequate support from the government. With nothing to compensate for the lack of resources and connections, they had to make every effort to survive.
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At the beginning of the play, the audience learns about Troy’s past as a baseball player and his dream to play in the Major League. Consequently, the lifting of racial restrictions on who could be admitted should have been a significant positive event for the protagonist. However, since it happened when he could no longer play due to his age, the impact of this change was different. It is possible that Troy’s anger was only exacerbated by this new rule; it might have felt like destiny’s cruel joke to him.
Contrarily, Troy’s actions, along the course of the play, did have a long-lasting positive impact on the world. When he won the case against his employer and became the first black garbage truck driver in the country, he set a precedent. His promotion might not have changed his life in any significant way, but it certainly influenced the situation in the country. Even though he only defended his own rights, his actions could have inspired other black people to demand equally fair treatment. In this regard, the action of the play does influence the events that happen in the future.
As for the audience reaction to the play, it is uncertain whether it will remain the same as when it was originally written. On the one hand, the play is a relatively recent creation, as it was written in 1985. Some aspects of the story would not differ substantially if it were written in 2020. On the other hand, the historical context presented by Wilson has very little in common with the situation in the modern United States. Furthermore, the script does not contain an explicit explanation for some of the subtle details regarding the choice of the period and the location. One could say with an acceptable level of confidence that the audience should still be able to enjoy the core plot. However, the perception of the main message may be different from what it was 50 years ago. The black power movement, which was at the peak of its activity in the 1950s and 1960s, has achieved its goals, and some viewers might see a portion of the play’s ideas as “preachy.”
Nevertheless, there are other reasons why maintaining historical accuracy in the production of Fences is worth doing. Even though the political agenda is no longer required and might not be appreciated by the audience, the educational value remains high. It is vital to preserve the original context of the story, as it provides a unique opportunity to discover the way people lived at that time. The younger viewers would benefit greatly from achieving a new level of understanding of that challenging, but ultimately indispensable, period in their country’s development.
As an Actor
For this part of the paper, I have chosen Troy Maxson as the character I am going to study and play the part. He is the protagonist of the play, whose actions and decisions often define the direction of the plot. Troy is a challenging individual to understand, as he has several contradicting layers to his personality. Consequently, his relations with the other character are complicated, with many conflicts and issues.
The play does not contain comprehensive background information about the head of the Maxson family, but there are several important details in his past, all of which are united under the common theme of racism. It is known that Troy’s father was a sharecropper – a farmer that does not own land and rents it for a portion of their yearly harvest. This practice was common in the US after the abolition of slavery, as the now free black people sought financial independence, but very few of them owned land. This part of Troy’s story links him to slavery from the very beginning of his life.
As a young adult, Troy experienced another cruel manifestation of racism. In the first scene, we discover that Troy was a successful baseball player in the Negro Leagues, but the Major Leagues only began accepting black players when he was too old to join. Troy was still angry about the way his dream was crushed, and he felt that players should be judged on their skill, not the color of their skin. This is also the scene when we learn about Troy’s peculiar relationship with death, and his tendency to substitute reality with fictional stories. After being warned about the danger of drinking by his wife, he began telling a fable of his fight with a personification of death in July of 1943. Even after Rose revealed that Troy was recovering from Pneumonia in Mercy Hospital, he continued narrating his version of the events. Later in the play, Troy made rebellious remarks addressed at death, whenever his life took a turn for the worse.
Troy’s life philosophy was formed by the times he was mistreated in the past. He was concerned with being treated right by others but did not seem to believe that they deserved the same. He was furious about his sports career being destroyed by a racist policy, but when his son was recruited into the college football team, he told him to find a job instead. He said that Cory needed a practical occupation that could earn him an income, even though he would not have made the same choice for himself. There was a similar situation with Lyons’s aspirations of becoming a musician as well.
Furthermore, while Troy demanded that his family lead a responsible lifestyle, this rule did not seem to apply to him. On the surface, he was a rational man, working a stable, if not very exciting, job to provide for his family. In spite of this, he had no problem cheating on Rose with Alberta for no reason except personal pleasure. Perhaps Troy saw his family as another burden and did not genuinely care for these people.
Troy’s fight for black rights is another area of controversy for this character. He was outraged by the fact that his life was shaped by discriminatory practices and felt that he could have achieved his goals, had it not been for these arbitrary limitations. He had a progressive view on the relations between different races and actively worked to achieve equality. His sons seemed to share these ideas, but their visions were different. While Lyons and Cory were hopeful, believing that they would be able to enjoy the benefits of true equality, Troy was quite pessimistic. He demanded fair treatment, but his past experiences have instilled in him a certain set of expectations regarding the opportunities he could and could not capture. This might be the reason why he told his son to abandon football, saying that black players are never given a chance to succeed. Troy still defended his rights, but he dud not have faith in any global changes.
There is no doubt that Troy’s reality was depressing: he was not allowed to realize his dream, which led to him working a dead-end job and taking his frustration out on his family. His stories seem to be another way for Troy to numb the pain. He was a man of action, who was willing to stand up for himself, but he could not change the past. He was unable to eliminate the things that made him unhappy, nor could he ignore them. The only way he saw to protect his feelings was by imagining fantastical versions of some of the most challenging episodes from his life. This resolution to his inner conflict would never solve the core issue, but it did give Troy a momentary sense of relief.
In conclusion, Troy’s character could both be seen as a victim and a villain in Fences. He was put a disadvantage by the unjust society from the moment he was born. At the same time, he shows his own hypocrisy when he did not give his children the freedom he was deprived of. One could assume that Troy was flawed by nature, and that might have been true in other circumstances. However, in Wilson’s play, all major aspects of Troy’s life depend on factors he cannot control. Thus, he is a product of the society he lives in and not an inherently evil man.