Performance Date: 06.11.10
Let’s get the celebrity stuff out of the way first. I saw Fences the weekend before the Tony’s with a friend who knows someone in the cast. After the show, we waited in the alley behind the stage door gate to say hello. There we were had a funny exchange with fellow backstage visitor Philip Seymour Hoffman, who was not recognized by security and had to wait in the alley with us peons (he was cool about it), and were charmed by Denzel Washington who goofed with us while waiting for his cue to exit onto the barricaded street. Now, do you remember how once upon a blog I confessed that I find famous people (and Philip Seymour Hoffman in particular) shiny? Well allow me to update you: Philip Seymour Hoffman is still shiny, even up close and personal. Denzel has degrees of shininess – least shiny in person, next shiniest on stage, ultra-uber-ohmygod shiny two days later on television when I actually gasped and did a little involuntary seated-hop on my friend’s loveseat watching him on the Tony’s. I’m not proud of this last bit of information. Sometimes I think I was created in a lab by scientists.
Speaking of the Tony's... Did Fences deserve to win Best Revival? Yes. Though View from the Bridge deserved it just as well. Did Denzel deserve Best Actor? Yes. And Liev would have deserved it too. Did Viola deserve Best Actress? Oh hell yes. Though I didn’t see any plays starring her fellow nominees. What do I think about Hollywood invading Broadway and taking all our jobs and prizes? Ah, interesting. If I became a famous movie star tomorrow, I would use my new celebrity status to enable my Broadway debut in a heartbeat. So I’m not going to say Hollywood should stay away just because I’m on the other side of it. But it is true that the commercialization of theater, and the resulting movie-and-TV-stars-on-stage phenomenon, has had a huge negative impact on my profession. There are simply fewer jobs for the non-famous, which trickles down to make competition at even the lowliest levels tougher than ever. That sucks big time. But whaddya gonna do? I don’t see the trend changing any time soon. So we will adapt. I don’t know how, nor how many careers will be abandoned in the meantime, but we will adapt. It’s the only way.
Finally, let's get to some Fences stuff. What I will remember:
-- Viola Davis’s body in a sudden, violent spasm as her character digests some devastating news. Oh my god, woman. Work. (For the uninitiated of my parents’ generation, “work” is a positive remark, derived from “work it” or “work it, girl,” commonly used in response to a person literally or metaphorically strutting one’s stuff on the catwalk.)
-- Chris Chalk’s kinetic leaping about the set as the adolescent Cory – an apt choice that, in addition to conveying his character’s youth, connected him physically to his surroundings and conveyed a sense of belonging to the home and yard around him.
-- Stephen McKinley Henderson anchoring the stage with grounded energy at the top of the show, when both Denzel and the applauding audience are forced to cope with the magnitude of Denzel’s stardom.
-- Finally Denzel Washington, who balanced an honest compassion for and honest judgment of his character, Troy Maxton, in Troy’s most unlikeable moments of the play. A less rigorous actor would be tempted to win the audience’s approval, either by evoking sympathy for Troy or subtly conveying a personal condemnation of him. Denzel does neither. His performance in those moments remains consistent with his portrayal elsewhere, and in this way he allows the complexity of August Wilson’s protagonist to shine through.