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Legendary Director Brings August Wilson’s Fences to Portland Playhouse

Winner of the Tony Award for Best Play, the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play, Fences asks “What makes us choose the things we keep at a distance and what we decide to let in?”

Presented by Portland Playhouse May 14, 2018

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Image: Brud Giles

Director Lou Bellamy, Obie Award winner for Two Trains Running is the founding Artistic Director of Penumbra Theatre Company, which has produced more August Wilson productions than any company in the world. Lou Bellamy himself worked with August Wilson on his first ever staged production nearly 35 years ago.

“My relationship with the Wilson oeuvre is largely due to my friendship with the playwright as well as my role as founding artistic director of Penumbra Theatre Company in Saint Paul, Minnesota,” says Bellamy. “As Artistic Director, I produced Mr. Wilson’s first professional production—Black Bart and the Sacred Hills in 1982. Mr. Wilson was a member of Penumbra Theatre Company and wrote Malcolm X, a one-man show, expressly for me to perform. I’ve had the honor of bringing several of his characters to life on the stage, including Troy Maxson,”

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Image: Brud Giles

Bellamy’s Troy Maxson has been a big part of the conversion in the Playhouse’s staging of Fences. In the August Wilson directed production years ago, Lou Bellamy’s son was played by actor Lester Purry. Purry now joins the Portland cast as Troy with a force thundering through his backyard and his memory as his family around him quakes and adjust to undulating attention and anger. 

“He is a master painter,” says Purry, “He introduced August Wilson to the world. He produced his very first play. This is as close to August Wilson direction that you’re going to get.”

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Image: Brud Giles

Bellamy acknowledges Wilson’s influence, “My professional aesthetic, my relationship with and interpretation of history, and the manner in which I present African-American comportment and culture on stage is shaped by his work. I find the spaces Wilson has engineered in this work capable of being filled by authentic African American cultural rhythms and nuance. Yet, Fences remains perhaps August Wilson’s most accessible play. Maybe it’s the structure which weaves Wilson’s tale around a single, “Lear-like” figure has at once engendered deep understanding, revulsion, and identification from audiences all over the world.”

Portland theatre goers will thrill to see favorites La’Tevin Alexander (fresh off Oregon Children Theatre’s And in this Corner, Cassius Clay, and August Wilson’s Red Door Project’s Hands Up) as Cory and co-artistic director of The Beruit Wedding World Theatre project Bobby Bermea as Troy’s brother Gabriel. 

Purry is joined by Erika LaVonn in the role of Rose, a visiting actor who breathes so much life and pain and love into her character that it takes all an audience can muster not to stand up next to her as she faces the storm threatening to destroy her family, her home, her life. 

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Image: Brud Giles

Bryant Bentley returns to Portland Playhouse as Troy’s friend Jim Bono.  Bentley last appeared in Portland in the Playhouse’s hit production of August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson four years ago. Seth Rue, who play’s Troy’s son Lyons, made his debut in that production of The Piano Lesson. Two young actors, Imani Hill and Serelle Strickland round out this stellar cast, alternating in the role of Raynelle.  Strickland will be familiar to Portland Playhouse fans from her appearances in A Christmas Carol while Imani makes her debut in Fences.

Two post-show panel discussions are planned along with this production.  Moderated by Tony Funchess, these panels are free and open to the public following the matinee performances.

May 20th - In honor of Mental Health Month - The Black Community & Mental Health: A panel
discussion aimed at dismantling barriers and addressing the needs of mental health access and services for the Black Community.
June 10th  - In honor of Fathers Day - Black Fathers & Their Sons: An intimate conversational experience - what we say, what we wished we said, and the things rarely heard outside the black home.

IF you wish to attend the panel discussions only, please come to Portland Playhouse, 602 NE Prescott Street, Portland at 4:55 pm on the day of the panel. 

Tickets:  $34-$44, $25 for ages 35 and under, $20 rush, $5 Arts for All with valid Oregon Trail Card.  www.portlandplayhouse.org/fences or call the Box Office at 503.488.5822 Tuesday – Saturday 12 – 4pm