Tuesday, July 21, 2015

August Wilson's 'Fences' Opens Aug. 21 at ICT

LONG BEACH, Calif. (July 21, 2015) — International City Theatre continues its 30th anniversary season with a production celebrating the 30th anniversary of a modern American classic: Fences by August WilsonGregg T. Daniel directs Wilson’s powerful drama for an August 21 opening at International City Theatre’s home in the Long Beach Performing Arts Center. Two low-priced previews are set for August 19 and 20.

Set in 1957, Fences is Wilson’s sixth entry in his ten-play “Century Cycle,” a decade-by-decade exploration of the black experience in 20th century America. Michael A. Shepperd stars in the story of Troy Maxson, a former Negro League home run king who was shut out of the big leagues by prejudice and is now a garbage collector with little future. Fences is considered by many to be Wilson at his best: challenging the American dream through a poetic, powerful and deeply personal story.

“Here in America whites have a particular view of blacks,” Wilson explained in an interview with The Paris Review. “I think my plays offer them a different way to look at black Americans. For instance, in Fences, they see a garbage man, a person they don’t really look at, although they see a garbage man every day. By looking at Troy’s life, white people find out that the content of this black garbage man’s life is affected by the same things — love, honor, beauty, betrayal, duty. Recognizing that these things are as much a part of his life as theirs can affect how they think about and deal with black people in their lives.”

“Blacks see the content of their lives being elevated into art,” he continued. “They don’t always know that it is possible, and it’s important for them to know that.”

Two years after its 1985 premiere at Yale Repertory Theatre, Fences opened on Broadway where it garnered Wilson’s first Pulitzer Prize as well as Drama Desk and Tony Awards for “Best Play.” A 2010 production garnered the play its second Tony, for “Best Revival.”

Michael A. Shepperd — best known to L.A. audiences as co-artistic director of the multiple award-winning Celebration Theatre, where his producing, directing and acting credits include The Color Purple, Four, The Women of Brewster Place, Take Me Out, Coffee Will Make You Black, [title of show] and numerous others — is joined on the ICT stage by Christopher Carringon (A Dr Juess Christmas at Sacred Fools) as Troy’s best friend, Jim Bono; Matt Orduña (Clybourne Park at San Diego Rep) as his brother, Gabriel; Karole Foreman (Wedding Band at Antaeus) as his loving but beleaguered wife, Rose; Jermelle Simon (Livin’ Ain’t Easy & Dyin’ Ain’t Beautiful at Theatre Theater) as their son, Cory; Theo Perkins (In the Red and Brown Water and The Brothers Size at the Fountain) as Lyons, Troy’s oldest son from a previous marriage; andMma-Syrai Alek (Wedding Band at Antaeus) as Troy’s young daughter, seven-year-old Raynell.

Largely self-educated, American playwright and poet August Wilson's plays center on the struggles and identity of ordinary African Americans and the deleterious effect of white American institutions on black American life. His works draw heavily on his own experience. His “Century” cycle of ten dramas (sometimes called the “Pittsburgh Cycle” because all the plays but one take place in the Hill district of Pittsburgh, the black ghetto where Wilson grew up) focuses on the major issues confronting African Americans during each of the decades of the 20th century. The cycle begins with Gem of the Ocean, set in 1904, and ends in the 1990s with his final play, Radio Golf. In between are Joe Turner's Come and Gone (1910s), Ma Rainey's Black Bottom (1920s), The Piano Lesson (1930s), Seven Guitars (1940s), Fences (1950s), Two Trains Running (1960s), Jitney (1970s) and King Hedley (1990s). Written out of chronological order over a period of more than 20 years, the plays include various overlapping characters and themes. “This cycle is unprecedented in American theater for its concept, size, and cohesion,” noted theater critic Christopher Rawson. John Lahr wrote in The New Yorker, “No one except perhaps Eugene O'Neill and Tennessee Williams has aimed so high and achieved so much in the American theater.” Following Wilson’s death from cancer in 2005, the Virginia Theater on Broadway in New York City was renamed the August Wilson Theater, and in 2006 the African American Cultural Center of Greater Pittsburgh was renamed the August Wilson Center for African American Culture.

Gregg T. Daniel’s directing credits include Wedding Band: A Love Story in Black and White for the Antaeus Theatre Company (Stage Raw Awards for “Best Revival” and “Best Ensemble”) and the New Jersey premiere of playwright Katori Hall’s The Mountaintop at Cape May Stage. In 2013, he received a Best Director nomination from the NAACP Theatre Awards for the West Coast premiere of Kwame Kwei-Armah’s Elmina’s Kitchen. (The production won in the category of Best Ensemble.) For the Group Repertory Theatre, he directed a critically acclaimed production of Lee Blessing’s Cobb. Additionally for GRT, he has directed Tom Stoppard’s translation of Heroes and Frank McGuinness’s Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me. He is the artistic director and a founding member of Lower Depth Theatre Ensemble for which he directed the West Coast premiere of Mustapha Matura’s Three Sisters After Chekhov. He is a graduate of New York University’s School of the Arts and a member of the Antaeus Theatre Company.

Set design for Fences is by Don Llewellyn, lighting design is by Karen D. Lawrence; costume design is by Kim DeShazo, sound design is by Jeff Polunas, props are by Patty and Gordon Briles, wigs are by Anthony Gagliardi, fight choreography is by Edgar Landa, casting is by Michael Donovan Casting and the production stage manager is Victoria A. Gathe.

Fences runs ThursdaysFridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m., Aug. 21 through Sept. 13. Two preview performances take place on Wednesday, Aug. 19 and Thursday, Aug. 20 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $46 on Thursdays and Fridays, and $48 on Saturdays and Sundays, except opening night (Aug. 21), for which tickets are $54 and include a post-performance reception with the actors, and previews which are $34.

International City Theatre has formed a community partnership with the African American community in Long Beach to raise funds for college scholarships and to bring students to the production. A Community Partnership package, which includes a pre-performance Gala dinner as well as a post-show reception with the actors on opening night, is $125; tables of ten are available for $1,200. Community Partnership chairs: Dr. Minnie DouglasMarva Lewis and Dr. Sharon Valear Robinson.

International City Theatre is located in the Long Beach Performing Arts Center at 300 E. Ocean Blvd. in Long Beach, CA 90802. For reservations and information, call the ICT Box Office at 562-436-4610 or www.InternationalCityTheatre.org.

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