Hello and Welcome to American Blues Theater’s production of Fences,
In 2018, I directed a production of Hamlet at The Gift Theatre in Chicago. At the center of it was an astounding performance by Daniel Kyri playing a young black man wrestling with the weight of losing his father. Only three months before, I had lost my own father and was now directing this production while living in my family home, haunted by memories. When I create work with folks, it comes from a place of personal questioning. It’s usually a question that I can’t answer for myself. I need collaborators, artists, audiences to ask the question with me. Losing my dad so suddenly left me with questions that have permeated my work – questions of family, of duty and responsibility, of how to love, of how to be a father, of how to move forward together.
While re-reading Fences, I saw my father again in the character of Troy Maxson. I saw someone who was charming, funny, blunt, and taking swings at the unfair pitches thrown to him as a Black man. I saw someone who loved in his own way. I saw my father and I saw myself. I sit somewhere between Troy and his older son Lyons so I can remember how it felt to laugh with my dad, to ask and be asked for money, and to confront him for the first time. However, as my wife and I consider having children of our own, I also understand the fears of raising a young black boy in today’s America, to not know if you have enough to raise a child the way you want to. I know the need to reach higher in order to give something better to the generations that come after us. And I know what it feels like to pursue the American Dream while feeling trapped by it.
The Maxsons are pursuing the American Dream too. They build a white picket fence in the hopes of keeping love in and danger out. The Maxsons know the game is rigged against them, but as Black folks, they have to play the game anyway to prepare a better future for their children. Troy reaches for something better in his own self interest, shoving down others for his own success and happiness. Despite all his talk of duty and responsibility to his family, his actions, his constant sacrifices to a devilish capitalist system lead to an eventual spiritual rot. Fences questions whether the pursuit of the American Dream amounts to freedom or does it wall us in, creating division in the pursuit of our own individual upward mobility.
There was a time before my dad passed when my parents considered getting a new fence around our yard to replace the chain link one. My mom refused to get the wooden fence – she wanted to see her neighbors. It’s that seeking of community that brings joy, growth and empathy. And it’s in those glorious moments when our black skin glows from the joy and love of each other’s company, stepping together in time instead of stepping alone, it feels like the walls of Jericho have fallen down and we’re one step closer to salvation.