By August Wilson
Directed by Tony Simotes
Starring Johnny Lee Davenport, Sheryl Carbonell, and Stelson Telfort
Mad Cow Theater
Troy Maxon (Davenport) coulda been a contender. He hit in the 400’s in the Negro League, but the color barrier and a jail term killed any chance of sports stardom. Today he loads trash for a living, and just became the first black trash driver in Pittsburg. It’s steady work and the pay is livable, but he’s not going far anymore. His wife Rose (Carbonell) admires him even as she scolds; he does about as much drinking and messing around as anyone in an August Wilson play and deserves worse. Now his son, Cory (Telfort), just might make the NFL if Troy will just sign the recruiting papers; but there’s no chance due to Troy’s experience with sports and white folks. Meanwhile Troy builds a fence both real and metaphorical around the house. Its notional purpose keeps out the grim reaper, but on a different plane it recalls swinging for the fence while striking out. He may be a man of the neighborhood, but his recent sins nearly destroy his marriage and his son’s life.
There are a lot of words in this play, and most of them seem to come from Davenport. He’s in every scene but one, and in all of them he has long, eloquent monologs and diatribes. I was impressed. Supporting him are some of the best actors in town; Ms. Carbonell played the tough yet loving woman who clung to her man through all offenses, defended her children, and brokered the compromises. She complains about the loose moral structure of their community in a darkly humorous monolog: “Everybody’s a half this and a half that and its always YOUR mama or MY daddy.” Next witness the footloose Lyons (Damany Riley), Troy’s son from a previous marriage. He’s the cool jazzbo character, always broke but always having fun. Telfort’s Cory is angry, strong, and disciplined. While the NFL is not in his future, his discipline gets him a decent career in the Marines. Toughness is what this is all about, even in the case of half crazed Gabriel (Jim Braswell). He’s loud and in your face and lovable; he lost part of his head in the war and terrorizes the neighborhood with his loud religious fantasies.
While grounded in the 1950’s, there’s a timeless element to this story; one of getting by when rebuffed by civilized society. Everybody here is a survivor; they take the bean balls and bad calls then pick up the pieces and keep running. Our hold on everything is precarious, and these folks can’t afford a Plan B. There’s the joy of Wilson’s work: people soldier on with only minimal complaining and maximum heart.
For more information on Mad Cow, please visit http://www.madcowtheatre.com