Fences by August Wilson
The Chancellor, as a high school English teacher and aficionado of mid-to-late twentieth century American drama, is more well-versed in plays than I am in most time periods. When he heard that August Wilson’s Fences was being turned into a film with Denzel Washington and Viola Davis (also known as The Queen, can we just give her a damn Oscar already???), he freaked out. And then he was startled when I confessed that I had never read or seen it. So he put it into my hands and I devoured it in a winter evening.
The play focuses on Troy Maxson, a middle-aged black man who is facing his oldest phase in a world he no longer recognizes. His wife, who is younger, and his son have hope where he does not, and his eldest son has not recognized his true potential. Troy’s distrust of America, after continually being crushed and discriminated, manifests itself in his behavior. He, meanwhile, is angry and scared at the new world that seems to be emerging, even as his wife and son seem to embrace its potential. To say any more would be a spoiler, but it is both rich and tragic in its scope.
This play is an excellent character study, just as it examines and interrogates the idea of the American Dream. This is a play that would work excellently well at either the high school or college level, and it takes a specific look at the American Dream from an African-American perspective. It’s a multi-cultural text, it’s an American text, and it’s also a twentieth-century text. You don’t have to be a teacher to enjoy it, either. I think you can get a lot of insight from it. I hope the new film will be just as good! Also, let’s start a Viola Davis for Oscar Go Fund Me, yes?