By Zach Dunkin
For 18 years she stood by him. For 18 years Rose Maxon put up with her husband’s anger, hostility and selfishness. For 18 years she wretchedly watched him abuse their two sons. For all that time she was always at home, cleaning and cooking and satisfying her husband’s taste for fried chicken and sex.
After all, Troy Maxon could be a good man. From the time he swept Rose off her feet with the pickup line “I can dance a waltz that will make you dizzy,” Troy made her laugh, publicly flaunted his affection for her and worked hard to provide her with a two-story, brick row house in the downtrodden Hill District of Pittsburgh. And every Friday he’d come home after a hard week as a trash collector and hand over his pay.
But then shortly after intermission in a scene from August Wilson’s “Fences” at the Indiana Repertory Theatre, 18 years of allegiance came to a heart-breaking halt. Hearing your man say is going to be the father of another woman’s child will do that to a relationship.
In one of the play’s most intense scenes, Rose, played brilliantly by Kim Staunton, held the IRT opening night audience captive with an emotional, raged-filled rant of a woman betrayed by the man she “invested 18 years in.” Forever carrying the bitterness of being shut out of major league baseball because of his color, Troy, played by IRT favorite David Alan Anderson, frequently used baseball euphemisms to describe situations and his confession to his affair was no exception. “I stood on first base for 18 years and I thought…well, (expletive deleted) go for it.” He wanted to” steal second base” with the woman who “firmed up my backbone.”
“We ain’t talking no baseball,” Rose countered. “We’re talking about you going off to lay in bed with another woman and then bring it home to me.” She questioned Troy if he had ever taken into consideration her hopes and dreams and, perhaps, her desires to be with other men. Then, she nailed him with 15 words: “I gave 18 years of my life to stand in the same spot with you.”
Wilson’s tale of the frustrations of man who could hit a baseball 400 feet in the Negro Leagues before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier takes its audience on a roller-coaster ride of emotions. At one moment Troy and his best friend Jim Bono (Marcus Naylor) have viewers are laughing over their gin-induced joking around and storytelling and the next the audience is recoiling over Troy’s verbal and physical abuse of his two sons, Cory (Edgar Sanchez) and Lyons (James Alfred), a role, incidentally, Anderson played 20 years ago on the IRT stage.
Young Cory endures most of the abuse, and Sanchez plays the part well, absorbing the mistreatment until his father kicks him out of the house following a physical scuffle in front yard, a dirt yard recently fenced in by Troy to keep his world intact. Driven by his distrust in a white man assisting in his son’s future and his resentment that his son could possibly be a more successful athlete than he was, Troy derails Cory’s promising opportunity by refusing to let him accept a football scholarship, instead insisting that he work at the neighborhood A&P. When Cory’s pleading fails to overturn his dad’s decision, he asks his father: “How come you ain’t never liked me?” To which Troy responds: “Like you? Who the hell say I got to like you? What law is there to say I got to like you?” The audience reacted with a collective gasp.
While Anderson is clearly the star of this show with lines delivered so fluidly one would think he isn’t really acting at all, Stanton bonds the show from scene to scene, whether she’s beaming when Troy woos her with his frisky charm or expressing her motherly concern for her own children as well as her husband’s illegitimate daughter. After Troy’s mistress dies giving child birth, he begs Rose to take the girl in. Stanton then delivers some of most powerful lines of night, signaling a turning point in their relationship: “I’ll take care of your baby for you cause she innocent, and you can’t visit the sins of the father upon a child. A motherless child had got a hard time. From right now this child got a mother. But you a womanless man.” Strike three, you’re out!
From the brilliant direction of Lou Bellamy to the captivating stage design of Vicki Smith’s to the moving performance of a stellar cast, IRT’s encore production of “Fences” knocks it out of the park. The play continues through April 3.