Denzel Washington’s age greatest barrier in film version of ‘Fences’

Jack Petro
Jack Petro

Denzel Washington commits the cardinal sin in theater. Never, ever direct a production where you are the leading actor. It is impossible to see yourself critically as a performer.

“Fences” by August Wiilson won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for best Broadway Drama starring Washington and co-star Viola Davis.  The same duo appears in the movie, but the transition from play to movie is no easy matter.

Denzel Washington and Viola Davis in "Fences."
Denzel Washington and Viola Davis in “Fences.”

Troy (Washington) and wife Rose (Viola Davis) live in Pittsburgh. It is 1955.  Troy has a steady job as a garbage collector and the pair have a neat, modestly furnished home. They have two grown sons. The older is a moderately successful musician while the younger is being recruited by the NFL.

A tethered baseball and bat in his yard testifies to Troy’s athletic abilities.  He says he could have made it big but the color line was not broken by Jackie Robinson until he was past his prime.  He makes his family suffer for his disappointments and becomes a tyrant.

The bed rock performance belongs to Viola Davis who ties her relationship with Troy to some sense of stability.  While Troy slaps his pay on the table every two weeks, he cheats on his wife without justification.

An Oscar nomination and award is in store for Davis.  She will nose out Emma Stone (La La Land).  Washington’s performance is inhibited by his own intentions. There is no more telling evidence when he declares “I’m 36” (Washington is 61).

The movie is a solid B in all aspects.

“Fences” is currently showing at the Old Mill Playhouse at Lake Sumter Landing in The Villages.

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