Ridgefield Theater Barn produces Pulitzer Prize-winning Fences

The flow of talent from theater to theater and town to town up and down and across Connecticut is amazing. Since I cover so much Connecticut theater, I have a unique view. While it’s just common sense that actors, directors and crews from the Greater Waterbury area would travel to the Warner Theatre, Landmark, The Phoenix Stage Company and other local community theaters, I have seen a move south where actors from the greater Waterbury area are now showing up at theaters such as the Brookfield Playhouse, the Town Players of Newtown and now, most noticeably, The Ridgefield Theater Barn.

When I see names like Katherine Ray and Foster Evans Reese on the line-up for August Wilson’s great Pulitzer Prize-winning play — “Fences,” I take notice. Katherine is a fine director and Foster is outstanding on the stage or in the director/choreographer seat. When I learned that Shelby Davis, who lives and works in Waterbury is also in the upcoming production, I had to phone him.

It’s a hike from Waterbury to Ridgefield, but Davis said that he carpools with others who are from the Waterbury area. “It’s great to carpool and talk about the show or read lines on the way to rehearsals. Sometimes I have to go in on my own and that’s not nearly as much fun,” he said with a laugh.

This is Shelby’s first major dramatic role as son Cory and he is happy to be working with both Ray — his director and Foster who is playing his father Troy in “Fences.” The counselor for Waterbury’s elementary schools, Davis said he is not like his character. “I am a happy-go-lucky kind of guy who loves to sing and dance. In the shows that I have performed in, I’m usually singing in the chorus and dancing in the ensemble,” he said happily and convincingly. “But when I walk through those theater doors, I’m Cory.” Cory is about to graduate from high school and recruiters have been talking to him about playing college football. Troy will not hear of it. Some argue that Troy wants to save his son the disappointment he experienced when not allowed to play pro-baseball because he was black. Shelby, like most others, believes Troy is just jealous of his son’s opportunity. “Just because he didn’t get a chance to succeed as a pro, he doesn’t want me to do so either,” said Davis.

So much of what Davis does on stage requires responding to his father and mother. “It’s all about facial expressions,” said the newly ordained dramatic actor. “I am becoming this man who wants to become something unlike his father,” described Davis who must be a very youthful looking “happy-go-lucky” guy because he’s 32 years old and playing an 18-year-old. He laughs at this, suggesting that he really is rather youthful looking. His favorite line in the play happens to be the most famous and most quoted line in the play, “How come you don’t like me?” Cory asks his father.” Davis auditioned for this play in the summer and now finds that he is enjoying dramatic work enough to do it again.

The play offers insight into black life in the 1950s and early 1960s. Watching this play in the 21st Century shows how far black athletes have come since then. It is truly a great play and undoubtedly draws large audiences. It plays Feb. 2-24. Box office: 203-431-9850.

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