Brayden Simpson is one of the stars of ‘Fences.’
On October 21, the Pulitzer Prize winning August Wilson drama “Fences” comes to the Everyman Theatre in Baltimore. The play, set in 1950’s Pittsburg, tells the story of a working-class black man named Troy Maxson and his family. “Fences” is part of Wilson’s 10-play Pittsburgh Cycle – a series of plays dedicated to portraying varying aspects of the black experience.
The Everyman production is directed by Clinton Turner Davis, who worked backstage at the original Broadway production of “Fences,” which featured James Earl Jones.
The AFRO sat down with Alan Bomar Jones, who plays Troy, and Brayden Simpson, who plays Troy’s youngest son Cory.
In the play, Troy is a strong man who makes hard choices. Those choices have painful consequences for those closest to him – especially Cory. Because of that, Jones and Simpson must capture the often contentious relationship between father and son. The duo said that the chemistry necessary to bring that relationship to life was there almost from the beginning.
“When I first met him, the first thing that struck me about him was that he was very controlled as an individual,” Jones said. “When I’m in the mode of what I feel on stage, I automatically raise my voice and start projecting. So I did that, and he gave it back. Even though we were reading, we were constantly making eye contact and I just started feel like ‘man, if I get this, I hope he’s my son.’ It was like, everything I did, he gave back.”
“When we read, there was a very strong, immediate connection,” Simpson said. “Those two energies coming together made that magic.”
Jones said this was his third time stepping into Troy’s shoes, although the last time he did it was over 15 years ago. He said the added time means he can bring even more life experience to the role.
“I would say that I have more experience to add to Troy today. I’m not a father but I father a lot of young actors and people that I run across. I have more grit and more gut to add to him 17 years ago when I was in my 30s.”
And does he think that Troy, who eventually ruins his marriage to his faithful and goodhearted wife Rose, is a bad person?
“Troy is a good guy in his own mind,” Jones said. “He is from a generation of ‘this is the way a household is kept.’ So in his mind, he thinks and he feels that he is good so therefore he really is a good person.”
Simpson, a Maryland native who graduated from the Baltimore School of the Arts, said he has wanted to play Cory since he was 14 years old. He said that his character struggles to become his own man – in spite of his father and because of him.
“It’s that story that we know of a young boy trying to become his own over an overbearing father dominating his life. It’s something that we’ve seen in tropes over and over and over. I don’t think Cory is Troy but I think that Cory has more Troy in him then he recognizes.”
Everyman has a special arrangement with six Baltimore City high schools where they will bus students over to see five different shows, at no cost to city schools. After the shows, actors go to the schools and discuss the plays with the students. Simpson said he is most excited about that.
“We don’t know how many kids we’re going to inspire to do anything – become a literary agent, become an actor…Even if you’re going to be a lawyer, you need to have an artistic foundation. That’s what this play does. This play touches on not just American culture, but African American culture. You watch your history unfold.”
Fences runs until Nov. 22 at the Everyman Theatre, 315 W Fayette St, Baltimore, Maryland 21201.