JAG Productions' Fences Runs Through Sunday May 7th
New Theater Company Presents Stories to Shift Perspectives
The story was by no means easy or comfortable for the assembled audience at the preview performances of August Wilson’s Fences at the Woodstock Town Hall Theater Thursday and Friday night, but theatergoers left the production with overwhelmingly positive responses-- it was certainly two hours well spent. The moving portrayals by Brian Anthony Wilson as Troy Maxson, and Danielle Lee Greaves as Rose Maxson, bring complicated characters to life, giving context to their lives, their choices, or their lack thereof. The play, following the family struggles of a working class black family in the late 50’s in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was recently made famous in a film starring Denzel Washington. Troy, a sanitation worker promoted from handler to driver late in his career, was formerly a baseball player in the Negro League. His resentment stemming from his own lack of opportunities and success leads him to call off his son’s football and college career. The bonds of family, duty and love are strong in the Maxson home, but cycles of neglect and betrayal pervade.
Troy Maxson played by Brian Anthony Wilson whose credits include TV drama The Wire, with son Cory, played by Dartmouth freshman Gabriel Jenkinson
The character of Troy Maxson played baseball during a time when black players couldn’t make it in the big leagues. By the late 50’s there were African American players in the major leagues, but Troy laments the fact that they sat out much of the game.
“The colored guy got to be twice as good before he get on the team,” says Troy.
It is an analogy that can be extended to black playwrights, actors, or (insert any career.)
August Wilson is little known to many audiences, but his canon grants him a place among the most important American playwrights. Wilson ambitiously wrote “The American Century Cycle” a series of ten plays chronicling the African American experience, each set in a different decade of the 20th Century, and Fences is perhaps the most famous play of the cycle. Wilson’s important work is shaped by his upbringing in a working class neighborhood in Pittsburgh, where he was raised by a black mother, and had little involvement with his white father, an alcoholic who was not present much of his life. Leaving high school after being accused of plagiarism, Wilson continued his own education, devouring books in the local library and observing and listening to conversations on the streets.
Gabriel Jenkins as Cory with Celia Graham, (3rd grader in Lyme School) as Reynelle
Director Jarvis Green announced his intention to produce all ten plays in the cycle, an ambitious proposal, but he sees a ready audience, open to be exposed to these stories, and ready to be challenged. Green founded JAG Productions in 2016, with a commitment to present stories of people of color in rural Vermont. While the company doesn’t have a physical home, productions are based in the Upper Valley. The inaugural show, Tarrell McCraney’s Choir Boy, was held in the Briggs Opera House in White River Junction, and JAGfest, a weekend long theatre festival featuring playwrights of color was held in various locations, from Artistree to the Woodstock Library and the Town Hall Theater.
The demographics of the Woodstock audience coming out to see Fences may be mostly white and liberal, and sharing these stories in privileged communities is nothing new. August Wilson’s work debuted on Broadway and in other communities where there is funding for theater. Aware that he was writing for white audiences, Wilson said in an interview with the Paris Review, "I think my plays offer (white Americans) a different way to look at black Americans… in 'Fences' they see a garbageman, a person they don't really look at, although they see a garbageman every day. By looking at Troy's life, white people find out that the content of this black garbageman's life is affected by the same things - love, honor, beauty, betrayal, duty. Recognizing that these things are as much part of his life as theirs can affect how they think about and deal with black people in their lives."
JAG Productions mission to bring new stories to people, and have them leave shifted, and “move throughout the world with more love, greater kindness, and greater compassion for one another”. This was certainly achieved in their first two performances with Choir Boy and now Fences. The company also aims to reach people who wouldn’t normally have access to theater productions such as these. They work to keep ticket prices low ($30 and under is a steal compared to what a comparable show would be elsewhere) and offer the performances to high school students free of change. 200 Students attended the fall production of Choir Boy, and 250 are scheduled to see Fences for a May 4th matinee. Associate Producer Mitch Marois says “Shows like Choir Boy and FENCES just aren't done up here, and making them free and accessible to students is the best way to start the kinds of conversations that really create change in the world.”
You can catch this show:
Saturday, April 29: 7:30 pm
Sunday, April 30: 2:00 and 7:30 pm
Thursday May 4, and Friday, May 5: 7:30 pm
Saturday, May 6: 2:00 and 7:30 pm
Sunday May 7: 5:00 pm