Playwrights typically establish the scenes in which the following action will occur with detailed instructions for the production crew. These details, understandably, are intended to help set the mood and context for what will follow. In the opening set instructions for Fences, playwright August Wilson provides this seemingly innocuous description of his protagonists’ home in a rundown section of Pittsburgh:
The yard is a small dirt yard, partially fenced, except for the last scene, with a wooden saw horse, a pile of lumber, and other fence-building equipment set off to the side.
As Wilson’s play proceeds, that unfinished fence becomes a metaphor for an unfinished life, for commitments not met, and for barriers both from the outside world and to entrance into that same world. Exchanges between Troy , the play’s main figure, an embittered former athlete—a black baseball player in the days when racism was a seemingly insurmountable barrier (or fence) to black inclusion and...
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