In the Denzel Washington directed film adaptation of August Wilson’s play of the same name; the Actor is meant to stand at center stage, absent the stage. Fences—the play—has been called the African-American Death of a Salesman and in many respects Wilson’s play is a better work than Tennessee Williams’.
Washington’s direction is interesting enough, though the film is little more than a stage play in front of the camera, save a few scenes like the superb opener. He allows for many more laughs than another director may have chosen to let breathe through—a testament to his confidence and charisma both in front and behind the camera.
Of course, Washington and Viola Davis reprising their Tony-award winning performances are stellar as the leads. It is quite apparent that they lived in these roles over dozens of performances. As director, Washington lets every actor have their moment. Stephen Henderson is every bit the pro playing off Washington in their uneven banter. Jovan Adepo, as Washington and Davis son, stands out in the final act in his dress blues alongside the young and cute Saniyya Sidney.
Plays on screen often desperately miss the crackle of “aliveness.” And although every mark was hit one can’t help but rather have witnessed these players perform Fences in an intimate Broadway theatre rather than the local multiplex.