August Wilson's "Fences," playing at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's Bowmer Theatre through July 6, limns the eternal father-son conflict in uncompromising and, ultimately, redemptive ways.

Written in 1985, winner of both the Tony Award and the Pulitzer Prize, "Fences" is a portrait of African-American life at the crossroads. In 1957, full participation in sports, universities, religion or politics was beyond the realm of possibility. Even with the Civil Rights Act, the Supreme Court's decision on educational segregation and black players on Major League Baseball teams, full integration into American society was the stuff of dreams.

Wilson's protagonist, Troy Maxson (Charles Robinson), is caught in this world. Son of an Alabama sharecropper who brutalized his children but didn't desert them, Maxson ran away from home at age 14. He survived on the streets of Pittsburgh by stealing, was sent to prison for 15 years for murder in the course of a crime and discovered his talent for baseball while doing time.

After his release, Maxson earned an honest living in the Negro Leagues, but by the time the major leagues were bringing in black players, he was too old to transition. Maxson is angry and deeply distrustful of white society &

for good reason. His idea of the good life is a steady job and a steady wife and careful incursions into job equality.

Maxson's prize is his wife, Rose (Shona Tucker). Beautiful, smart, sexy and nurturing, Rose smoothes Maxson's rough edges, builds his confidence, dispels some of his bitterness. She is his anchor, holding him steady when he wants to fly off the handle.

No matter that his elder son (Kevin Kenerly) is a mooching, charming, dreaming musician. Or that his brother (G. Valmont Thomas), mentally disabled from a war wound, is a constant source of concern (although Maxson has callously used the brother's disability checks to supplement his income).

The only person with whom Maxson can truly be himself is Bono (Josiah Phillips), his oldest friend and co-worker on the garbage trucks. Bono is Maxson's confidant and conscience.

Maxson's younger son Cory (Cameron Knight), on the other hand, is the future. He's bright, hardworking, talented. When he's recruited for a scholarship to play college football, we can see the world that's coming. Cory stands on the Maxson's shoulders just as Maxson stood on the shoulders of his miserable sharecropper father.

Director Leah Gardiner likens "Fences" to Shakespeare's "King Lear" in the lead character's resistance to generational change and transition. This production of "Fences" does indeed have the power, majesty and poetry of "Lear" while being grounded in racially segregated America of the mid-20th century.

Gardiner and her cast bring Wilson's poetic dialogue alive. The idiom, the cadence of black American speech are reminiscent here of the riffs and the flow of jazz and the blues without ever losing touch with the reality of day-to-day mundane conversation and circumstance.

Charles Robinson, making his debut at OSF as Troy Maxson, is the embodiment of this. As he spins and declaims and laughs and moans the ups and downs of Troy Maxson's life, Robinson is a mesmerizing presence. Absolutely riveting.

Shona Tucker's Rose, on the other hand, starts out as a comfortable bantering wife then suddenly reveals the underlying steel beneath the velvet.

The other actors, especially newcomer Cameron Knight as Cory, are equally strong.

Scott Bradley's funky Pittsburgh Hill District set, lighting design by Dawn Chiang and Michael Keck's subtle and haunting music effectively complement the verbal fireworks. —

In this historic year, when an African-American with an improbably exotic name has a viable chance of becoming president of the United States, August Wilson's magnificent "Fences" reminds us where we've been, how far we've come and the limitless possibilities of where we can go.

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