Friday, October 8, 2010

"Fences" sold out! Now I am going to cry about my play, "Daughters of the Shadow Men"

Review: 'Fences' at Black Theatre Troupe

by Kerry Lengel - Oct. 5, 2010 02:11 PM
The Arizona Republic

A towering hero, a tragic flaw: Troy Maxson, the Negro leagues baseball star turned garbage man in August Wilson's "Fences," is a character of Shakespearean complexity, and Ken Love, the star of Black Theatre Troupe's elegant production, digs deep to deliver on the role's roguish charm and tectonic anger.

Black Theatre Troupe: 'Fences'

Reviewed Friday, Oct. 1. Continues through Sunday, Oct. 17. Playhouse on the Park, Viad Tower, 1850 N. Central Ave., Phoenix. $30. 602-254-2151,

"Hank Aaron ain't nobody," he pshaws to his faithful minion, Bono. Bitter that he missed out on the integration of the major leagues, he clings to his Great Man status by belittling the dreams of others - even his own son.

Holding court on his porch, Troy is the play's center of gravity, but director David Hemphill has set a vibrant constellation of performances in orbit around him.

As Bono, Mike Traylor rides the syncopated cadences of the dialogue like an expert surfer while balancing his character's defiant enthusiasm with a stale air of disappointment. And Lillie Richardson, hanging back as the good wife for most of the play, brings such intensity to her climactic confrontation with her unfaithful husband that she leaves the audience gasping and murmuring in their seats.

With an evocative, deceptively simple set and staging, Hemphill's "Fences" unifies the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright's down-and-dirty dialect with his rich symbolism and literary gloss. Performed by committed actors who understand the depths of their characters, this is drama that matters.

My friend Joyce Gittoes, who won an Arizoni for her performance in another great BTT production, "A Lesson Before Dying", tells me all the performances are sold out. I can only respond as a frustrated playwright who cannot get her plays done in Phoenix, the city where I have lived most of my life since I was 30. I am now 79.
But these are the hard cold facts of the theater world. If you have a disability, which I have due to the high stress I endured as a child, your chances of making your way through all the obstacles to become an established playwright is about nil. There are just too many hoops to jump through. You need to go to New York for one thing, and get a hit production there so the play can win a Tony or a Pulitzer, which is about the only thing that will ensure that a strong drama like "Fences" will be done in theaters out in the boondocks of cities like Phoenix. To do that you better have plenty of stamina.
At five years old I was not only molested, but it was by a man I suspected of having a homosexual affair with my father, so at that age I had to deal with being abducted three times by this man, along with the stunning conclusion that my father was not like other fathers. My mother seemed not to know it and I did not know how I could tell about the molester without telling the rest of it, since my father had used me and my sister I thought for a cover-up all winter in his trips to see this man, a neighbor. I was almost as outraged at my dad for doing this as I was at the neighbor, the abductor and molester.
At first I thought my mind would break under the strain of figuring out what to do to prevent more abductions and deeper molesting without my dad shooting the molester. I had seen him threaten to kill another man for rustling his cattle just months before. I figured if I told, without hesitation he would shoot him, figuring he would get away with it because of the severity of the crime. I figured a murder on top of everything else would be very bad for our family. So I waited three years to surface the crime and even then I lied and said he molested another little girl, not me, and somebody did shoot him, but did not kill him. Apparently he was helped to escape after his leg healed some, and it was not known what happened to him after that.
I went on to write a play about my father called "Daughters of the Shadow Men" after I finally told the family my suspicions about our dad at the age of 56. My 78 year old mother had just written her memoir about living with my dad and revealed a long suppressed memory of catching him in a compromising position in a hotel room with another man on their wedding day! At the time she was living with another bisexual she wanted to marry, and we daughters had been trying to wise her up about men who married women while still cruising for men, which her proposed husband did we girls thought. In fact he admitted to us he was a bisexual and begged us not to tell our mother as it would 'kill her' and would undoubtedly scotch the marriage plans. The reason he was so candid was because he was in 'show business' and was a semi-famous singer. So he had half way come out in this world where homosexuality was better accepted, he just had not come out to my mother, and her considerable bank account was tempting him to rush her to the alter before she up and died.
My mother, however, ordered me to keep forever quiet about suspecting our dad had been bisexual so as not to ruin the memories of the grandchildren. I told her I had already commenced to talk to my sisters. My suspicions were a low blow to them and they naturally did not like the idea of me blackening the family name in this fashion, but I was determined the truth had to come out at last.
However, the world is not so sure that truths like this should come out either. Theater people I have shown this play to have recoiled. My conclusion is that the world is just not advanced enough to accept such dramas.
August Wilson lucked out better with "Fences" about an angry black man, capable of certain cruelties regarding his son, and playing around outside his marriage with another woman.
So I have had to be a pioneer whether I wanted to be or not in getting bisexuals who play around outside their marriage with men better accepted in plays. I would say there are many married bisexuals. I have met a number of them myself. And these poor guys have invariably felt they had to lie about such preferences their whole lives. And the worst part of it is that a good many of them may have been molested into bisexuality, that is introduced to homosexual activities when very young, so that these activities have preceded their attractions to girls. Which is what I perceived had happened to my dad who had probably been molested numerous times as a child, a good deal more than I was to form such tastes even though he slept in the same bed as my mother for 35 years and was apparently able to perform there well enough to produce five daughters. Since my molester was a bisexual, if I had been a little son instead of a little daughter he might have been able to molest me numerous more times because on a ranch boys have to go out there and do chores girls don't have to do. I loved riding horses from the time I was a toddler and my abductor got me when I was playing out by the corrals by myself. My dad didn't have any sons, also, so he tended to take his daughters with him a good deal more than he would have done had he had sons.
So what do you think about a world that has been so slow in getting a handle on such problems? I recall hardly any studies about what happens to molested children, especially those molested by the same sex pedofiles for long periods. They are bound to be altered in their sexual behavior as adults thus becoming 'bisexual'. However bisexuality is not studied just as it is not an acceptable subject for a hit play to be about, so far.
But pioneers like myself are still struggling to do something about that. I naturally chafe quite a bit when a great playwright like myself only gets to sit in the audiences and see other playwrights' work. August Wilson is a great playwright who deserves all the accolades that have come his way. But why does a playwright like me get nothing?
Life is not fair. No, not at all. I know artistic theater directors feel they cannot produce such a play as "Daughters of the Shadow Men." Most theater audiences have not been prepared to see such subjects. They would probably be outraged and would seek the job of the one who had exposed them to such. In fact, nobody even knows what would happen. But such a risk is just not considered practical in the world of theater realities.
Even my son Raymond I raised myself to tackle such work would hesitate doing a play like "Daughters of the Shadow Men." He has been an intrepid pioneer and has done a lot of ground breaking work in theater, but not even he is tough enough to produce a play like "Daughters of the Shadow Men." He is one of the grandchildren whose memories are constantly getting ruined by his mother's too often references to his grandfather's alleged bisexuality. So he has mixed feelings about that.
I am thinking that perhaps David Hemphill, the intrepid director of "Fences" might do a black production of "Daughters of the Shadow Men." Just as he is directing a black version of "Hairspray" this season.
I am sure there are black bisexuals, too, married with children. At this point, I would probably bet on him more than anybody as having the courage to do my play. Last season BTT produced the great "A Lesson Before Dying" with some very tough subject matter in it. I would also bet on black audiences as being tough enough to take the subject of my play. I hate to say this, but black audiences seemed to be more down to earth and at home with some hard cold realities than white audiences. I just don't know if they could handle the subject of bisexuality.
I have been going to black theater for a long time. I have been seeing some strong theater there. Probably the strongest in Phoenix.
This time I saw great direction from David Hemphill in this production of "Fences." As well as brilliant casting. A long time artistic director, he has developed some good actors. I thought dang, this man has talent.
I can dream, can't I?

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