Directed by Denzel Washington, Fences, based on the play “Fences” by August Wilson, has graced the big screen. Back in 2010, Washington and Viola Davis starred in the play on Broadway. They have since brought the masterpiece to the screen. I’ve never seen the play, or read it, but I can tell you that watching the movie makes it feel like you are watching the actual play. How, you ask? Well, if you think of Shakespeare’s plays and how they’ve been adapted into movies, more or less, they are expanded on, modernized, or given more dialogue. When a play is adapted to the screen, there are usually extra scenes thrown in, or another plot twist, so it feels like a film.
A play, I’d say, is around 95% dialogue, and 5% action. In the various acting and improv classes I’ve taken and even a screenwriting class, the one thing I’ve learned that has to take place for the scene to move forward is an action. There is usually an end goal in mind as well. Whether it be washing the floors, reading a book, or in the case of this play, building a fence, there is always an action that sets up the play, introduces it, and propels it forward. That action, as minuscule as it may seem, is what allows for the 95% dialogue to happen.
Fences focuses on 53-year-old Troy, a man struggling to take care of his family. He works as a garbageman in 1950s Pennsylvania. Baseball plays a huge part in the play as Troy used to play for the Negro League. Through dialogue, we learn about Troy, his wife, Rose, his sons – Corey and Lyons, and his brother Gabe.
The fence in this story starts, but not completed, until the very last act. Through this action, we are set up to understand why the fence needs to be built, and are opened up to a world of family, race, and struggle through dialogue. Repeating phrases, or setting up a joke where you know the punchline is coming, are techniques unique to a play.
The thing I loved about Fences the movie was that you could tell it was a play. The interactions between characters, the few settings, the movement of the camera and the actors, conversations set around a bottle of alcohol, or food – everything read as a play. I have never seen anything like it. You can tell that not much of the original play had been changed.
There have been film adaptations of plays, like The Tempest, but they don’t work as well. What stood out to me about Fences, the movie, is the way it maintained the feeling of a play throughout the entire film and never faltered to be an adaptation. It, in my opinion, was an extremely successful play in a film format. I don’t know how else to put it, but it is a must see and Oscar worthy.
Denzel Washington and Viola Davis were spellbinding. Every word that came out of their mouths was beautifully crafted. I laughed, cried, and was taken aback at how the film was able to break me apart and put me back together again.
See Fences. In theatres now.
Featured image courtesy of IMDB