BY RITA CHARLESTON
21st Century Media News Service
Broadway and film star Michael Genet takes on the central role of Troy in August Wilson’s play “Fences,” running through Oct. 5 at People’s Light & Theatre in Malvern
Set in 1957, “Fences” takes place in the yard of the Maxson household in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, where Troy, once a renowned baseball player in the Negro Baseball League and now a garbage man, has just asked his boss why black employees can’t drive the trash trucks.
Embittered but informed by a society that has held back his life’s potential, he prevents his son Cory, a talented athlete, from playing football and blocks his chance at being recruited by a college team.
Says the play’s director Kamiuah Forbes, “Wilson has a really beautiful way of painting and honoring Pittsburgh and his hometown. Not just the landscape, where the town is a kind of character, but also the colorful and unique community members within it. And he does it with such honor and such grace and love.”
Indeed, adds Genet, it is that very fine writing that places Wilson among some of the greatest writers of all time.
“I’ve done a lot of Shakespeare on Broadway and elsewhere, and I would compare Wilson with the works of Shakespeare. August Wilson was a mentor of mine and ‘Fences’ is one of my favorite plays. I never thought I’d ever be acting in it, but here I am today.”
A native of Washington, D.C., Genet says he caught the acting bug when he was quite young.
“In fourth grade I was in a school play, and there was a moment on stage when I was under the lights when I felt so comfortable that I realized I really liked doing this. And by the time I was 12 years old, I was totally in love with acting.”
Initially getting his training as a classically trained singer, Genet says he soon opted out of that study in favor of acting. Initially attending Julliard in New York, he transferred out to the California Institute for the Arts to complete has theatrical training.
In addition to his many other talents, Genet is also a writer. As a screenwriter, he wrote the film “She Hates Me,” directed by and co-written with Spike Lee, among others. His most recently published book is “They Must Not Know Who I Think I Am: Lessons in Defiant Resilience.”
He’s also a prestigious Eugene O’Neill Playwright’s selectee, the winner of the coveted Kennedy Center Award for New American Plays, a Sundance Screenwriter’s Selectee for his critically acclaimed jazz fable “Pork Pi,” and the winner of the 2008 NAACP Image Award.
And now ”Fences,” in a role he coveted but refused to play for many years.
“James Earl Jones had done the role, as did Denzel Washington, and they were both marvelous. I didn’t think I could live up to what they had done as Troy. But when offered the role this time, I decided to accept. I had paid my dues and felt now I could handle it.”
And now he says he’s enjoying every minute of it, even though it can be a very difficult role.
“Just because you’re an African-American actor doesn’t necessarily mean you can do August Wilson. He’s very hard to do. I am a classically trained actor and doing August Wilson can be just as hard as trying to do Shakespeare, and that’s the main task.
“Very few writers in history can touch upon the rhythm of people like August. There’s a joy one gets to feel his poetry. And the musicality of his work just can’t be beat,” Genet concludes.
“Fences” continues at People’s Light & Theatre, 39 Conestoga Road in Malvern, through Oct. 5.
For tickets, call 610-644-3500 or visit PeoplesLight.org.