"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

No More Mr. Nice Guy

A revival of August Wilson’s Fences, starring Denzel Washington opened last night. I saw the original with James Earl Jones more than twenty years ago and recall it being a powerful night of theater. I think Washington can be a dynamic performer but I haven’t been interested in his work for a long time. This might be good though. 

From Ben Brantley’s review today in the Times:

There’s an exhilarated craziness in his eyes and a confrontational glint that dares us not to believe him. On the subject of his own life, Troy — a former Negro League baseball star turned sanitation worker, and a man whose name aptly evokes a legendary, ruined splendor — is a first-class mythmaker. Which means he’s also a first-class storyteller and a first-class self-deceiver, and that we’re going to hang on to his words.

Mr. Washington, a two-time Oscar winner, has his own personal specter to wrestle with in this production, directed by Kenny Leon and featuring a magnificent performance by Viola Davis as Troy’s wife, Rose. By starring in the first Broadway revival of “Fences,” which picked up about every major prize on offer in 1987, when it arrived on Broadway, Mr. Washington is stepping into the outsize shadow of James Earl Jones.

Large of frame and thunderous of voice, Mr. Jones has a titan’s presence that invested the embittered Troy with an aura of classical tragedy. He was big in every sense of the word, and there was instant pathos in the spectacle of a giant confined by the smallness of a world hedged in by 1950s racism. Mr. Washington has the fluid naturalness we associate with good screen actors, and when he played Brutus in the 2005 Broadway production of “Julius Caesar,” he often seemed to fade into the crowd of milling revolutionary Romans.


1 Yankee Mama   ~  Apr 27, 2010 1:37 pm

I saw the original as well. At first, when I heard that Denzel was doing the part of Troy, I was not inspired. Now, I'm thinking I might give it a try, if only to change how I identify the character. And anyway, it's never bad to support a rabid Yankees fan.

2 Chyll Will   ~  Apr 27, 2010 1:43 pm

There would seem to be a high contrasting of styles between Mr. Jones and Mr. Washington; James Earl Jones has a full and powerful voice that just barrels at you and blows you away when provoked, yet is protective and instructing when at rest. Denzel's voice insinuates itself into you consciousness, like the voice in the back of your head telling you to do something right or do something wrong. Nothing wrong with Denzel having his own take on the role as long as people don't compare the two; unfortunately for him James owned that role and it will take a legendary effort to not even supplant, but make his own mark. That said, I'm glad that he's up for the challenge; the mark of an actor's actor.

3 Alex Belth   ~  Apr 27, 2010 2:58 pm

Will! Nice to see you, my man.

4 moismycopilot   ~  Apr 28, 2010 5:38 pm

I was too young to have seen the original, but I treated myself to the revival for my birthday. Without having Jones as a benchmark, I thought that Washington was very good in the role--very natural and "life sized." However, as good as he was, Davis was even better. I couldn't look away during her second act scenes, her performance was so riveting. For what it's worth, the audience that I was in gasped at the same point that Brantley described in the review.

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