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‘Fences’ is iconic American play on Lone Tree stage

Director Wren Brown has praise for cast, facility, staff

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“What’s really important 31 years later,” said director Wren Brown, “is that this is one of those timeless American classics. The issues are all here — nuances of race … not every playwright is honored with the Pulitzer …”

The Pulitzer Prize-winning “Fences” (1985) is sixth in American playwright August Wilson’s 10-part “American Century Cycle,” which traces the African-American experience in America.

Starting April 5, Lone Tree Arts Center will produce Wilson’s “Fences,” with director Brown and a cast of eight experienced stage and screen actors, many from Brown’s Los Angeles location or New York. Several, including Essau Pritchett, who plays Troy Maxson, have performed in Wilson’s works before. “I always have my eye on one or two actors,” Brown said.

The story of the disappointed former baseball player, now a garbage collector; his wife, Rose; athletic son Cory; and various relatives, friends and neighbors still speaks to everyone who sees it.

August Wilson (1945-2005), winner of two Pulitzer Prizes, is regarded by many as one of the finest of American playwrights. His entire 10-part American Century Cycle was produced, one a year, by the Denver Center Theatre Company — and directed by the late Israel Hicks (1943-2010) — the first person to direct all 10 plays in one theater.

Wilson, child of a black mother and white father, grew up in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, the setting for the Cycle. He was involved in the Black Arts Movement and co-founded and directed a black theater, Black Horizons, according to Britannica editors. He later moved to St. Paul, Minnesota, where he wrote several plays. Self-educated at the public library after dropping out of high school, his first major play success was “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” (Broadway, 1984).

Israel Hicks and Wren Brown co-founded LA’s 10-year-old Ebony Repertory Theatre and Brown leads that professional theater today, as well as being a working actor — and involved in educational projects as well as the busy LA theatrical community.

Brown arrived in Denver to start rehearsals six days a week (Mondays are off-days) and is delighted with the LTAC facility and the active support from the staff. “It’s everything one would desire — one can’t always say that,” Brown commented, praising technical support as well. “I’ve traveled all over the world to work and never been treated better.” He added that “anyone in theater who has an opportunity to work here — should.”

Rehearsals started with a lot of “table work,” he says. “Table work is vitally important — the world of the play, locale, a road map … family, extended family members … Then comes blocking, stage movement — we stumble through. I work in a deeply collaborative way. I’ve worked with a few of these actors before … it’s nice to discover a work ethic you understand.

“Once we come together, a play becomes brand new,” Brown said, including “staging, set, general direction, lines, back story of the world of cast members. I am so excited coming in here as director, assembling a cast, as a practitioner of this work. Even well-worn plays change. Society changes … what the audience brings …” The play is set in 1957 — “it’s a fresh journey every day and every night.”

Next on Brown’s calendar? A repeat of last season’s success at Ebony Repertory Theatre, “Five Guys Named Moe” and acting. April is a busy time with series endings and pilots for new shows.

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