Fences (play)

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Written by August Wilson
Characters Troy Maxson
Rose Maxson
Cory Maxson
Jim Bono
Gabriel Maxson
Lyons Maxson
Raynell Maxson
Date premiered 1983
Place premiered Eugene O'Neill Theater Center
Waterford, Connecticut
Original language English
Series The Pittsburgh Cycle
Subject A Negro Baseball league player is now a garbageman; his bitterness affects his loved ones
Genre Drama, Fiction
Setting 1950s; Backyard of an urban home in a North American industrial city

Fences is a 1983 play by American playwright August Wilson. Set in the 1950s, it is the sixth in Wilson's ten-part "Pittsburgh Cycle". Like all of the "Pittsburgh" plays, Fences explores the evolving African-American experience and examines race relations, among other themes. The play won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the 1987 Tony Award for Best Play.


The focus of Wilson's attention in Fences is Troy, a 53-year-old head of household who struggles with providing for his family. The play takes place in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; although never officially named it makes mention to several key locations in Pittsburgh. Troy was a great baseball player in his younger years, having spent time practicing while in prison for an accidental murder he had committed during a robbery. Because the color barrier had not yet been broken in Major League Baseball, Troy was unable to make good money or to save for the future. (However, one line within the play does cast some doubt as to whether it was Troy's age, not his skin color, that kept him from becoming a professional baseball player.) He now lives a menial, though respectable life of trash collecting—remarkably crossing the race barrier and becoming a driver instead of just a barrel lifter. He lives with his wife, Rose, his son Cory (who still lives in the house at the play's opening), and Troy's younger brother Gabriel, an ex-soldier whose war injury to his head has caused him noticeable psychological damage. Lyons is Troy's son from a previous marriage, and lives outside the home. Bono is Troy's best friend. Troy had taken Gabriel's money that he'd been entitled to for his injury, and bought the house he currently lives in. A short time before the play's opening, Gabriel has rented a room elsewhere, but still in the neighborhood.

The play begins on payday, with Troy and Bono drinking and talking. Troy's character is revealed through his speech about how he went up to their boss, Mr. Rand, and asked why black men are not allowed to drive garbage trucks; Rose and Lyons join in the conversation. Lyons, a musician, has come to borrow money from Troy, confident that he will receive it and promises to pay him back because his girlfriend Bonnie just got a job. Troy gives his son a hard time, but eventually gives him the requested ten dollars after Rose persuades him to do so. Cory tells Troy and Rose about an opportunity for a college football scholarship. Troy tells Cory he won't let his son play football in fear of racial discrimination, like that Troy experienced while playing professional baseball. Troy and Cory argue about Troy's actions but Troy stubbornly does not back down from his argument and sends Cory to his room. Later on it is discovered that Troy told Cory's coach that his son is no longer to play football. With Cory's discovery of this, he and Troy get into a fight resulting in Troy's kicking Cory out of his house. Seven years later, Troy has died. Cory comes home from military training. He initially refuses to go to his father's funeral due to long-standing resentment, but is convinced by his mother to pay his respects to his father—the man who, though hard-headed and often poor at demonstrating affection, nevertheless loved his son.

The fence referred to by the play's title is revealed to be finished in the final act of the play, and Bono has bought his wife a refrigerator as he promised Troy he would do if he finished building it. It is not immediately known why Troy wants to build it, but a dramatic monologue in the second act shows how he conceptualizes it as an allegory—to keep the Grim Reaper away. Rose also wanted to build the fence and forced her husband to start it as a means of securing what was her own, keeping what belonged inside in and making what should stay outside stay out.


Fences premiered on Broadway at the 46th Street Theatre on March 26, 1987, and closed on June 26, 1988, after 525 performances and 11 previews. Directed by Lloyd Richards, the cast featured James Earl Jones (Troy Maxson), Mary Alice (Rose), Ray Aranha (Jim Bono), Frankie Faison (Gabriel), and Courtney B. Vance (Cory).

The production won the Tony Awards for Best Play, Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play (James Earl Jones), Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play (Mary Alice), and Best Direction of a Play (Lloyd Richards), as well as the Drama Desk Awards for Outstanding New Play, Outstanding Actor in a Play (Jones), and Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play (Alice). It also received Tony Award nominations for Best Featured Actor in a Play (Faison and Vance).

The first Broadway revival of the play opened at the Cort Theatre on April 26, 2010, with a limited 13-week engagement. Directed by Kenny Leon, the production starred Denzel Washington (Troy Maxson) and Viola Davis (Rose) as the married couple struggling with changing U.S. race relations.[1] The revival was nominated for ten Tony Awards,[2][3] winning three for Best Revival of a Play, Best Actor in a Play (Denzel Washington), and Best Actress in a Play (Viola Davis).[4]

In 2013, the play was revived by Theatre Royal Bath in the UK, starring Lenny Henry as Troy Maxson and directed by Paulette Randall. This production transferred to the Duchess Theatre in London's West End for a run that lasted between June and September 2013.[5]

Awards and nominations[edit]


Critical reception[edit]

Reviews of the 2013 British production of Fences focused mostly on Lenny Henry’s performance in the lead role, which attracted wide acclaim. Giles Broadbent from the Wharf said, “Lenny Henry is immense.”[6] Charles Spencer from The Telegraph said of Henry, "He is, and I don’t use the word lightly, magnificent."[7] Jane Shilling, also from the Telegraph said: "What you don’t expect is to find Henry entirely unrecognisable in the physically and morally immense character he embodies."[8] Best of Theatre said: "You may love or loathe his comedy but it is impossible to deny Lenny Henry’s determination to become a serious actor of some note."[9] Paul Taylor from The Independent said, “the performance cements Henry's status as a serious actor.”[10] Henry Hitchings from the London Evening Standard said, "He’s on superb form".[11] Simon Edge from the Express said, "Henry gives a perfectly controlled performance, combining physical poise with an armoury of carefully judged vocal ticks and facial mannerisms."[12]

The play itself is noted for its challenging subject matter. Hitchings commented that "Fences is dense and unsettling. It’s brave to programme such a meaty, daunting piece during the summer months".[11] Camilla Gurlter from A Younger Theatre described it as “very heavy and with its nearly three hours of lost hope and broken dreams it can feel long and depressing".[13]

Film adaptation[edit]

Main article: Fences (film)

A film adaptation of Fences, directed by Denzel Washington and starring Washington and Viola Davis reprising their roles from the 2010 Broadway revival, has completed production.[14] The film has been scheduled for release nationally 25 December 2016.


  1. ^ Gans, Andrew, and Kenneth Jones, "'Fences', with Academy Award Winner Denzel Washington, Opens on Broadway", playbill.com, April 26, 2010.
  2. ^ "Tony Award nominations", abcnews.go.com,
  3. ^ Gans, Andrew and Jones, Kenneth."2010 Tony Nominations Announced; Fela! and La Cage Top List", playbill.com, May 4, 2010.
  4. ^ "Winners List – All Categories", tonyawards.com, June 13, 2010.
  5. ^ "Henry Builds Fences in London", Official London Theatre.
  6. ^ Broadbent, Giles (July 1, 2013). "Stage review: Fences, Duchess Theatre", The Wharf, accessed September 28, 2014.
  7. ^ Spencer, Charles (February 28, 2013). "Fences, Theatre Royal, Bath, review". The Daily Telegraph. London. 
  8. ^ Shilling, Jane (June 27, 2013). "Fences, Duchess Theatre, review". The Daily Telegraph. London. 
  9. ^ Mitford, Oliver (June 25, 2013). "Fences Review", Best of Theatre, accessed September 28, 2014.
  10. ^ Taylor, Paul (June 27, 2013). "Theatre review: Fences – Lenny Henry's towering performance further proves his status as a serious actor". The Independent. London. 
  11. ^ a b Hitchings, Henry (June 27, 2013). "Fences, Duchess Theatre – theatre review", London Evening Standard, accessed September 28, 2014.
  12. ^ Edge, Simon (June 28, 2013). "Theatre review: Fences", Express, accessed September 28, 2014.
  13. ^ Gurlter, Camilla (June 29, 2013). "Review: Fences", A Younger Theatre, accessed June 28, 2014.
  14. ^ Viagas, Robert (April 22, 2016). "Denzel Washington's Fences Film Begins Shooting Today". Playbill. Retrieved April 25, 2016. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]