This theatre season marks the 25th anniversary of The Road Theatre Company.
As part of their very well respected Summer Playwrights Festival a few years ago, the superb ‘Broken Fences’ now has its west coast premiere at the Road Theatre on Magnolia. And how very timely the themes of this brilliant play are.
Broken Fences is a play about home. Our search for one, each person’s unique definition of one and our unfailing human instinct to protect, defend and hold on to the bitter end to one.
Set in Chicago, the story revolves around one particular neighborhood in the city caught in the clutches of gentrification, its longtime residents happy to be safer, cleaner and better fed while also struggling with the rising costs of living in “the new hip neighborhood.”
One black family in particular, whose home, passed down through three generations, is now in very real danger of having to sell, with property taxes far beyond their paychecks. The engaged Hoody and D come face to face with the “the new hip” in the shape of a very white couple with a baby on the way looking for a way to walk their progressive, liberal walk by moving into the ‘hood’.
Of course as altruistic and idealistic as these new residentsApril and Czar are, their participation in the rejuvenation of the area contributes to the rising costs of living there for the already struggling original inhabitants, and will probably outpace their incomes too at some point. And here lies the dilemma, a dilemma we are faced with continuously in L.A. as the once dodgy neighborhoods are absorbed, retooled and exclusivized at a seemingly exponential rate.
When does urban renewal become a forced resettlement program?
And how can we make peace with progress if it destroys lives?
What this play brilliantly addresses is the human cost of a strengthening economy combined with the fairly typical, painfully under paid working class wage. What was once an achievable life, a home owned, a familiar rhythm met each day with honest work and the respect of our peers no longer exists. And those still struggling to keep up must face the prospect that they will never and can never, regardless of their strength of will, achieve the now impossible goal of owning a home on a working class income.
Combine this truth with a neighborhood not ready to give up its long-held identity and give in to the ‘Starbucks culture’ regardless of its deliciousness and you have all the drama and humor that is ‘Broken Fences.’
This play could easily have become a parody of itself, giving in to the caricatures and cultural stereotypes we are all so familiar with, and yet these splendidly defined and fully realized characters are anything but that. April and Czar and warm and funny and full of their own fears and well aware of the excruciating possibility of their own ridiculousness. They are genuinely concerned with their surroundings and the life their unborn child will be surrounded by. After repeatedly finding graffiti and needles around their home and a brick through their window, they, obviously fearful, face the prospect of giving up, but stand their ground, as stubborn as those that reject the change they themselves have brought.
Hoody and D must decide if the struggle to keep the house, after D gives up going to school in order to bring in some much needed money, is worth it. When does a life become all about paying bills and when should we change our perceptions of what we think we need and let it become a ‘life’?
James Holloway and Bruce A. Lemon, Jr. PHOTO CREDIT: Michele Young
There are some hilarious other characters to help tell this wonderful tale. Hoody’s brother Marz, an upwardly mobile Starbucks employee and entrepreneur determined to sell their family house and move to L.A. A local kid, Esto, always in trouble, and two friends of April and Czar’s from the suburbs, Spence and Barb. Obviously appalled at their friends' dangerous choices, but wiling to ‘try on’ their alternative life as long as they can safely return to the ‘burbs’ after a few hours slumming it.
We spend enough time with all these dispirit people to know that they have very good reasons for their choices, they all have their own blind determination, their compelling arguments, but in the end what we learn, about them and of course about ourselves, is that all anyone ever wants is a little peace, as well as their own little ‘piece’ of the world.
We can hardly blame those moving in to a neighborhood once in tatters and now healing for driving up prices and driving out locals. If we want a balance, that can be achieved, but it’s something we all need to be involved in, to be aware of, because if left to their own devices, government and business will not protect us, not the neighborhoods, not the residents and their dreams and not the city…
Broken Fences is political, how could it not be, but at its heart it is a story about people, people who decide to be friends in spite of their backgrounds, their color and their situations. It’s a play about how similar we all are, how much in common we have with one another and how trust can be found in the unlikeliest of places if it is only given a chance to grow.
Every actor in the play is extraordinary, so I won't single any one of them out, there’s hardly any point when I would simply be repeating such words as “brilliant,” “sublime,” “riveting,” heartfelt,” “honest” and “true.”
But without the story, without the writer's words, even the best actor would be lost, and so the biggest praise must go to Steven Simoncic for this outstanding work.
The crew at The Road are always magnificent, the sets amazing and the technical aspects always handled with perfection, allowing the performances to be realized fully and the actors to do their best work safe in the knowledge that they are supported completely.
I highly recommend “Broken Fences,” another passionate, innovative and groundbreaking play from The Road Theatre on whom we can always rely for the best work on stage in L.A.
‘Broken Fences is playing at The Road on Magnolia at the NoHo Senior Arts Colony, 10747 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood, CA 91601
February 12th - April 3rd.
Fridays Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 2pm
Bruce Lemon Jr
Donna Simone Johnson
Set Design - John Lacovelli
Lighting Design - Derrick McDaniel
Sound Design - Joseph “Sloe” Slawinski
Costume Design - Michele Young
Props Master - Bettina Zacar