‘Fences,’ ‘Salute to Vienna’ are holiday entertainment highlights

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Lara Ciekiewicz
Peter Guth

“Fences,” a Pulitzer Prize winning play by August Wilson, is one of 10 dramas Wilson wrote for the stage as part of his American Century Cycle. Each of his plays chronicles the black experience in America during ten different decades in the 20th century. James Earl Jones originated the role of Troy Maxson when “Fences” opened in 1985. Denzel Washington took on the role in the 2010 Broadway revival of “Fences” and both he and Viola Davis, who also stars in the film, won Tony Awards for their performances.

“Fences,” a Pulitzer Prize winning play by August Wilson, is one of 10 dramas Wilson wrote for the stage as part of his American Century Cycle. Each of his plays chronicles the black experience in America during ten different decades in the 20th century. James Earl Jones originated the role of Troy Maxson when “Fences” opened in 1985. Denzel Washington took on the role in the 2010 Broadway revival of “Fences” and both he and Viola Davis, who also stars in the film, won Tony Awards for their performances.

Now “Fences” comes to the screen, starring Denzel Washington. He also directs the film from the screenplay August Wilson wrote before his death in 2005.

“Fences,” set in a working class neighborhood in Pittsburgh circa the late 1950s, opens as Troy (Denzel Washington) and his good friend Bono (Stephen McKinley Henderson) are working on the back of a garbage truck. As they lift and empty heavy garbage cans Troy expresses his underlying anger at a system he feels discriminates against black workers. “How come you got all whites driving and the coloreds lifting,” he tells Bono. Ironically, when things change and he finally becomes the first black union driver, he confides to Bono that driving can be lonesome.

Before he was a garbage man, Troy was a fine baseball player in the Negro league, but by the time baseball’s color barrier was broken, he was too old to transition into the majors. The injustice still stings. Troy is unable to see that times are changing. He is still bitter that he never got the chance to play in the majors and refuses to allow his son to pursue a sports career.

Troy’s son Cory, a senior in high school, is an excellent football player and has the chance to play for a college team in North Carolina, but his father refuses to sign the paperwork needed. He also insists that his son keep his part time job after school, which means Cory can’t go to football practice. Rose (Viola Davis) urges Troy to let their son follow his dreams, telling him that things are changing, but he refuses to listen. His stern advice to his son is “white men ain’t gonna let you get nowhere with that football.”

He also has a strained relationship with his older son, Lyons (Russell Hornsby) from a previous marriage. Lyons is a musician who loves to play in clubs, but his talents don’t always earn him enough money to pay his bills so he often comes to his father to borrow a ten or a twenty. Troy believes a man’s worth involves his willingness to perform real work and bear real responsibilities. He considers playing jazz a waste of time and resents lending his son money, even though Rose never minds helping Lyon out.

The anchor and true love of Troy’s life is his wife of 18 years, Rose (Viola Davis) who stands behind him through thick and thin. She also tries to support her teen-aged son’s dreams. Davis, who won a Tony for her portrayal, may also receive a well-deserved Oscar nomination for her moving on screen performance.

These characters deep, rich, and beautifully drawn, and the actors are clearly up to the challenge. If you have never seen an August Wilson play, this is your opportunity to experience one of his finest works. And “Fences” will certainly be a Best Picture contender when the Oscars roll around.

Celebrate and welcome 2017 with the Salute to Vienna New Year’s Concert at the Music Center’s Walt Disney Concert Hall. A stunning a new program featuring Strauss waltzes and sweeping melodies from Die Fledermaus and Merry Widow, will be performed by the Strauss Symphony of America. Enjoy a star-studded cast of acclaimed European singers, ballet dancers and beautifully costumed ballroom dancers who will waltz you through romantic vignettes. The music will include the beautiful “Blue Danube” and the rousing “Radetzky March.”

This program will kick off 2017 in the 80 year old tradition of Vienna’s world famous “Neujahrskonzert,” seen annually on PBS. The show always feels fresh and new no matter how many times you experience it. At the Walt Disney Concert Hall, 111 South Grand Ave., Downtown Los Angeles, Sunday Jan. 1 at 2:30 pm. Tickets available online at musiccenter.org or by calling 323-850-2000.

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If you have pet lovers on your gift list here are two DVD ideas. Young and old  pet lovers will get a kick out of “The Secret Life of Pets,”  an animated film that shows you what your little furry darlings do when you aren’t looking. Rated PG, the Universal DVD comes with plenty of Bonus Features and 3 mini movies. And cat fanciers will love “The Story of Cats” from PBS. Find out how cats evolved with an in-depth look at lions, servals, cheetahs, tigers, fishing and sand cats. This two part PBS series is full of fascinating facts about what makes a cat a ‘cat.’