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Weston Playhouse's 'Fences' at Colonial Theatre

KEENE, NH 10/17/03 - The award-winning Weston Playhouse Theatre Company is bringing August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Fences to Keene’s Colonial Theatre, Tuesday-Wednesday, Nov. 4-5. The November 4 performance will begin at 7:30 p.m. The November 5 performance is a special 9:30 a.m. school presentation.

These performances, co-presented by Keene State College’s Redfern Arts Center on Brickyard Pond and the Colonial Theatre, are part of a six-community tour of the production, which will open at the Weston Playhouse in Weston, Vermont. The Keene performances are funded in part by a grant from the New England Foundation for the Arts, with additional support from the six New England state arts agencies and the National Endowment for the Arts. The corporate sponsor is Citizens Bank Foundation.

Fences was the first Broadway play to win all five "Best Play" honors (Pulitzer Prize, Tony Award, N.Y. Drama Critics Circle, Outer Critics Circle, Drama Desk Award). Set in the 1950s, Fences is the story of Troy Maxson, a former Negro League baseball player, who had to settle for being a garbage man long before Jackie Robinson broke the major-league color line. His failed dream to become a big league ball player alienates him from his athlete son.

Chosen by Time/CNN as one of America’s Best Artists, playwright August Wilson has been at work for nearly a quarter century on a series of plays documenting the lives of black Americans during each decade of the 20th century. Those plays include Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, The Piano Lesson and his latest, Gem of the Ocean, which opened at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre before traveling to L.A.’s Mark Taper Forum. Fences remains Wilson’s most popular work; the original Broadway production starring James Earl Jones grossed more than any other non-musical in history. The New York’s Post’s critic, Clive Barnes, hailed the play as "the strongest, most passionate American dramatic writing since Tennessee Williams."

Actor/director Arthur French, whose production of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom won acclaim last fall at New York’s Classical Theatre of Harlem, directs Fences. The recipient of an Obie Award for sustained excellence, French has directed for the Negro Ensemble Company, New Federal Theatre and African Arts. A member of the original Broadway and Off Broadway casts of August Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, he has been seen on TV’s Third Watch and Law and Order and in the films Round Midnight and Malcolm X.

Veteran actor Charles Turner, whose credits include Broadway, Off Broadway and regional companies such as Long Wharf, Yale Rep and the Shakespeare Theatre, heads the cast in the central role of Troy Maxson. Perri Gaffney, whose appearances range from Lincoln Center to the Edinburgh Festival, plays Troy’s wife, Rose. Jasper R. McGruder, seen at the Kennedy Center and Manhattan Theatre Club, plays Troy’s friend, Bono. Guiesseppe Jones, a graduate of San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theatre, last seen at Weston in Of Mice and Men, plays Troy’s brain-damaged brother, Gabriel. Ron Scott and Jacques Cowart II play Troy’s sons, Lyons and Cory. Angela Milligan appears as Troy’s daughter, Raynell.

For Fences, scenic designer Howard Jones, a veteran of the Goodspeed Opera House and North Shore Music Theatre who designed Weston’s recent production of Ragtime, has created a two-story brick house and back yard surrounded by a rundown 1950s Pittsburgh neighborhood. He is joined by costume designer Rachel Kurland, lighting designer Stuart Duke, and fight director Michael Burnet.

"August Wilson is one of the hottest playwrights in America," comments Weston Playhouse Producing Director Steve Stettler, "and we are honored to be producing the Vermont Premiere of his most celebrated work." Wilson is, in fact, very much in the news. The screenplay of Fences is set to be produced by Scott Rudin (The Hours); and Minneapolis’s Penumbra Theatre and New York’s Signature Theatre each plan to devote an entire season exclusively to the playwright’s work. Wilson has also begun to act himself, appearing in his new one-man play at the Seattle Repertory Theatre.

Tickets for Fences are available at both the Colonial Theatre (603-352-2033, www.thecolonial.org) and Redfern Arts Center (603-358-2168, www.keene.edu/racbp) box offices. Tickets are not available days of performance at the Redfern Arts Center. For tickets to the school performance please contact the Colonial Theatre box office. Tickets are $25.50, $21.50, and 15.50 for adults and $19.50, $15.50, and $9.50 for youth.

To provide access to patrons who are deaf, the November 4 performance will be interpreted in American Sign Language. Contact the Colonial Theatre to arrange special seating.

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