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A Moving 'Fences' Takes Gentler Tack

July 23, 1999|F. KATHLEEN FOLEY

Set in 1957, August Wilson's finely tuned "Fences" balances the microcosm of one beleaguered black family against the sweeping forces of a society in painful transition. Originally staged by Lloyd Richards, the play revolves around its epic protagonist, Troy Maxson, a role ineradicably associated with its originator, James Earl Jones.

James Geralden, who plays Troy in Veronica DiPippo's current staging at Theatre 40's temporary space, has some mighty large shoes to fill--and he occasionally stumbles along the way. Although Geralden's Troy and DiPippo's staging lack the precision and epic rage of Richards and Jones' celebrated collaboration, their gentler and more muted approach is nonetheless heartfelt and genuinely moving, a folksy and satisfying realization of a justly celebrated classic.

Victoria Profitt's set, slightly modified from Theatre 40's current main-stage offering in a space across the street from the company's regular theater, serves this production well. Cheryl Tyre-Smith imbues Rose, Troy's loyal, long-suffering wife, with new depths of sensuality and humor. As Troy's best friend, Bono, Dennis Neal turns in a quietly assured and satisfyingly no-frills portrayal. And, in the most impressive performance of the evening, George C. Simms captures the shining simplicity of Troy's brain-damaged brother, Gabriel, a child-like visionary whose celestial imaginings contrast pitiably with his earthly lot.

*

* "Fences," Theatre 40, 241 Moreno Drive, Beverly Hills. Mondays-Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Ends Aug. 18. $12. (323) 936-5842. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.

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