Fences is one of the best stage-to-film adaptations
Adaptations of the stage to the film have been frequent throughout the history of cinema. Among the most famous film adaptations of plays are the works of William Shakespeare and Tennessee Williams. by Shakespeare Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, King Lear, and Macbeth, have all received countless adaptations over the years. Williams’ A streetcar named Desire, cat on a burning roof, and Glass factory were also adapted for the screen. Even though these stage-to-film adaptations are incredibly well-known and rightly admired, Fences deserves to be included in the same conversation.
August Wilson Fences received two Broadway performances. Its first Broadway performance was in 1987. It starred James Earl Jones, Mary Alice, Ray Aranha, Courtney B. Vance and many others. Fences would win 4 Tony Awards in 1987, including Best Play for Wilson and Best Performance by a Leading Actor for Jones. Her second Broadway trip was in 2010 and starred Denzel Washington, Viola Davis, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Mykelti Williamson and Russell Hornsby. These five actors would reprise their Broadway roles in the 2016 film adaptation of Fences.
Wilson’s Fences is set in Pittsburgh in the late 1950s. The play follows the Maxson family and the struggles they experience both personally and societally. At the center of these troubles is Troy, Washington, the patriarch of the Maxson family. He works alongside Jim Bono (Henderson) as a garbage man to earn a salary to take home for his wife and son. Naturally, Troy isn’t thrilled about picking up trash and expresses his disgust at the way the world has turned out for him. As an up-and-coming baseball star, Troy continued to hone his craft in the black leagues but was never able to go further because of the color barrier. Troy becomes the first black driver of a garbage truck in Pittsburgh after speaking out about the practices of his placement company. Troy’s dissatisfaction with his life spills over into his relationships with the rest of his family, including his wife, two sons, and younger brother.
When the opportunity for Troy’s youngest son Cory (Jovan Adepo) arises to potentially play college football, Troy refuses to treat it as a possibility. Recalling his own experiences trying to play professional sports, he insists that all of his children need to build a reasonable life for themselves so they don’t spend so much time chasing a dream they don’t forget. to prepare for their future. . Tension between Cory and Troy continues to grow as they work to build a fence around the house. Troy’s wife Rose (Davis) tries to plead Cory’s case, but he won’t hear her. Rose often challenges Troy and even gives money to Lyon (Hornsby), Troy’s oldest son from a previous relationship, after Troy refuses.
Troy is perceived as a tough and practical man. Washington is fantastic at portraying the intensity of Troy and shares several heartbreaking scenes with Davis and Adepo. After learning that Troy had an affair, he tells Rose that he got the woman pregnant. Davis and Washington share an Oscar-level moment where Rose reminds Troy that they shared the same experiences and that Troy can’t be blamed solely for his mistakes. The mother of Troy’s newborn daughter dies during childbirth, and Troy brings Raynell home, asking Rose for help in raising her. In another memorable scene, Rose agrees to take care of Raynell, but tells Troy, “Right now this child has a mother, but you’re a man without a wife.”
Troy’s treatment of Cory, Lyons, and his younger brother, Gabe (Williamson), are other examples of his rough personality. He berates Cory and Lyons’ dreams and takes advantage of Gabe. Gabe’s mental impairment as a result of his service in World War II often results in short-lived patience from others. Troy eventually decides to institutionalize him and have him send the other half of Gabe’s monthly pension in order to keep his family afloat financially. At one point, Cory asks Troy about her apparent dislike for him, and Troy responds with, “Who said I had to like you?”
In addition to playing the role of Fences’ lead, Washington also directed the 2016 film adaptation. Washington’s previous experience with the play gave him the insight to create a meaningful adaptation of Wilson’s work. It’s somewhat comparable to Paul Newman’s experience with the work of Tennessee Williams. Newman starred in the film adaptation of Cat on a hot tin roof and continued to lead Glass factory in 1987. Washington would go on to produce the 2020 Netflix movie, Ma Rainey’s black background, another of Wilson’s plays. Washington’s leadership Fences received 4 Oscar nominations in 2017, including Best Picture.
Washington and Davis first found success with Fences in 2010, where they both won Tony Awards for their performances. The 2016 film would also earn Davis her first Oscar. Davis’ role in Fences would be her third Oscar nomination, as she had previously been nominated for Doubt and Ugly. After his success with Fences, Davis would star in another film adaptation of one of Wilson’s plays. She would receive another Oscar nomination for her starring role in the Netflix production of Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.
Translating a stage production into a film is not as easy as it seems. However, the experience that the cast of Fences is able to bring to the screen their previous portrayals of their roles blending well with the new cast additions. Collectively, the whole thing works incredibly well together. Their individual performances and delivery of some of Wilson’s most powerful lines are truly masterful. Leonardo DiCaprio’s Romeo from Baz Luhrman’s 1996 film and Marlon Brando’s Stanley Kowalski from the 1951 adaptation of A tram called Désir are two of the most notorious performances from stage to film. The cast of Fences surely made their case to be immortalized on the same pedestal, as there isn’t a single person who fails to deliver in their performance.
Fences is available for rent on Amazon Prime.
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