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Putting Up Fences

Playwright August Wilson’s presence imbues the Huntington Theatre Company

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Huntington Theatre Company managing director Michael Maso and director Kenny Leon pay tribute in the slide show above to playwright August Wilson (Hon.’96), author of Fences, which runs at the BU Theatre through October 11.

Michael Maso can’t walk down Huntington Avenue without remembering August Wilson. “He was a resident playwright here for 23 years,” the Huntington Theatre Company’s managing director recalls. “It still feels empty without him.” 

Critically acclaimed playwright Wilson (Hon.’96) died in 2005, but his work endures. This week the Huntington kicks off its 28th season with Fences, the 6th in Wilson’s 10-play literary legacy.

Referred to as the Century Cycle, Wilson’s series spans 10 decades of African-American history and culture, beginning with Gem of the Ocean (set in the 1900s) and ending with Radio Golf (set in the 1990s). “There is no other American dramatist who has come close to creating a cycle of work of the same scope, scale, realization, and ambition,” Maso says.

Set in 1957, the Pulitzer- and Tony-winning Fences examines the struggle for racial equality through the eyes of Troy Maxson, a trash collector and former Negro Leagues baseball hero, who believes racism crippled his career. Convinced that his son Cory, a talented football player, will encounter similar prejudice, Troy forbids him from accepting a college scholarship.

Fences is a universal, wonderful story because it deals with family and the need for love,” says director Kenny Leon.

The Huntington’s relationship with Wilson began in 1986, when he developed his fourth play, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, there. Over the next 20 years, he returned to revise seven more works: The Piano Lesson, Two Trains Running, Seven Guitars, Jitney, King Hedley II, Gem of the Ocean, and Radio Golf. The Huntington productions were the springboard for the plays’ New York debuts, according to Maso.

“August swore over and over that he did his best work in Boston,” he says. “He revised and reworked his scripts, sometimes paring them from four hours to two. And we designed the sets and costumes that went to Broadway.

“Sometimes he’d pop into my office and tell me, with extensive dialogue totally from the top of his head, about his next play,” Maso remembers. “And I would hear the early versions a year or two in advance because they were all being worked on in his head.”

“August gets marginalized as an African-American writer,” says Leon, who has directed all 10 of Wilson’s plays. “But he was a great American writer, period.” 

Gazing from his office — Wilson’s old office — across Huntington Avenue, Leon sighs. “He was a good man,” he says. “I miss his laughter. And more than anything, I miss his storytelling.”

Fences runs at the BU Theatre, 264 Huntington Ave., through Sunday, October 11. Tickets range from $20 to $82.50 and may be purchased online, by phone at 617-266-0800, or in person at the BU Theatre box office or at the Boston Center for the Arts Calderwood Pavilion box office, 527 Tremont St., Boston. Patrons 35 and younger may purchase $25 tickets (ID required), and there is a $5 discount for seniors and military personnel. Student rush tickets are available for $15 at the box office two hours before each performance, and members of the BU community get $10 off (ID required). Members of the BU community are eligible for a special subscription rate. Call 617-266-0800 for more information.

Vicky Waltz can be reached at vwaltz@bu.edu.

1 Comments

One Comment on Putting Up Fences

  • Anonymous on 09.17.2009 at 4:55 am

    Moving and Healing

    There should not be any human being not touched by this performance. This is a great tribute to a gifted playwright. He understood what it takes to translate the truth and power of living. This slideshow is a splendid introduction to an important production.

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