If you haven’t seen Fences yet, run to the theatre.
Oscar Worthy! On so many levels. This was my first Broadway play with Billy Dee Williams playing Troy Maxon! Denzel Washington captured the role perfectly in the movie along with Viola Davis as Rose. Fences is playwright August Wilson’s amazing tome about an inner city Pittsburgh family in the 1950s. Troy Maxon, a former Negro League baseball player, is who the story revolves around. All the characters in the play have a central conflict with Troy in some way. It’s an amazing story and Washington does an excellent job directing the action on the big screen.
As a baseball fan, the comparison of Troy to Babe Ruth (who was widely regarded as the most famous Major Leaguer) or Josh Gibson (who was clearly the best player in the Negro Leagues and who many regard as someone who could have rivaled Ruth’s celebrity) is one of the many conflicts that Troy deals with in the story. A great ballplayer who was in his prime before Jackie Robinson and the integration of the Major Leagues. Here’s a great line of dialogue:
rose: Cory done went and got recruited by a college football team.
troy: I told that boy about that football stuff. The white man ain’t gonna let him get nowhere with that football. I told him when he first come to me with it. Now you come telling me he done went and got more tied up in it. He ought to go and get recruited in how to fix cars or something where he can make a living.
rose: He ain’t talking about making no living playing football. It’s just something the boys in school do. They gonna send a recruiter by to talk to you. He’ll tell you he ain’t talking about making no living playing football. It’s a honor to be recruited.
troy: It ain’t gonna get him nowhere. Bono’ll tell you that.
bono: If he be like you in the sports…he’s gonna be all right. Ain’t but two men ever played baseball as good as you. That’s Babe Ruth and Josh Gibson. Them’s the only two men ever hit more home runs than you.
troy: What it ever get me? Ain’t got a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out of.
rose: Times have changed since you was playing baseball, Troy. That was before the war. Times have changed a lot since then.
troy: How in hell they done changed?
rose: They got lots of colored boys playing ball now. Baseball and football.
bono: You right about that, Rose. Times have changed, Troy. You just come along too early.
troy: There ought not never have been no time called too early! Now you take that fellow…what’s that fellow they had playing right field for the Yankees back then? You know who I’m talking about, Bono. Used to play right field for the Yankees.
troy: Selkirk! That’s it! Man batting .269, understand? .269. What kind of sense that make? I was hitting .432 with thirty-seven home runs! Man batting .269 and playing right field for the Yankees! I saw Josh Gibson’s daughter yesterday. She walking around with raggedy shoes on her feet. Now I bet you Selkirk’s daughter ain’t walking around with raggedy shoes on her feet! I bet you that!
rose: They got a lot of colored baseball players now. Jackie Robinson was the first. Folks had to wait for Jackie Robinson.
troy: I done seen a hundred niggers play baseball better than Jackie Robinson. Hell, I know some teams Jackie Robinson couldn’t even make! What you talking about Jackie Robinson. Jackie Robinson wasn’t nobody. I’m talking about if you could play ball then they ought to have let you play. Don’t care what color you were. Come telling me I come along too early. If you could play…then they ought to have let you play.
Our shameful past, where black athletes were not given a chance to play on the world’s biggest stage, reflected in the lost dreams of one man is simply one amazing tale that Wilson tells.
Run, don’t walk. And when they are doling out Oscars, they might just want to hand a few out to this cast. Washington and Viola are amazing. JOvan Adepo does an amazing job as the son, Cory, who comes of age in front of our eyes. Stephen McKinley Henderson plays Troy’s best friend Bono with an ease unlike any I have seen before with gentleness. But I think the stage was stolen by Mykelti Williamson who plays Gabe, Troy’s brother who was injured in the war and now suffers from mental illness after he was wounded and lives with a metal plate in his head.
Check him out:
And while we’re at it. I came across a very interesting article on possible inspirations for Troy Maxon. Here’s just one thought—but a significant one.