"Fences" -- the 1987 Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winner by August Wilson -- opened Monday to rave reviews for its first rialto revival. Two-time Oscar champ Denzel Washington was praised for his performance as Troy, a one-time baseball star turned sanitation worker who struggles to reconcile his past and present. Critics drew favorable comparisons with James Earl Jones, who originated this role for which he won the second of his two Tonys.
Also earning plaudits was Oscar nominee Viola Davis ("Doubt") as the long-suffering wife Rose. That part won Mary Alice the featured actress Tony for the original production. On Monday, the Outer Critics Circle nominated Davis in the lead category; whether the Tony Awards will consider her as such will be determined by the administration committee on April 30. The nominating committee meets on May 3, with their decisions announced the following morning.
Washington -- who is also in the running with the OCC -- is likely to land his first Tony Award nomination. Five years ago, he was snubbed for his Shakespearean performance as Marcus Brutus in "Julius Caesar." While that production was a runaway hit, critical opinion was mixed and it was not an awards contender. However, Washington has always endeared himself to the close-knit theater community with his no-nonsense attitude.
"Fences" is also likely to contend in the play revival race at the Tony Awards. Other possible nominees include "A View From the Bridge," a 1956 domestic drama by three-time Tony champ Arthur Miller; the Ken Ludwig farce "Lend Me A Tenor" which was a 1989 play nominee (losing to "The Heidi Chronicles"); and the 1927 George S. Kaufman-Edna Ferber comedy "The Royal Family." And while Washington did not slay critics in "Julius Caesar," Jude Law won them over this season in "Hamlet" and both he and that production could compete.
From "Fences," featured actors Chris Chalk -- as Corey, the son of Troy and Rose -- and Mykelti Williamson -- as Troy's brother Gabriel -- could be nominated, as were the roles' originators Courtney B. Vance and Frankie R. Faison. They both lost in 1987 to theater veteran John Randolph for "Broadway Bound."
Another Tony Award winner for "Fences" back then was director Lloyd Richards. He helmed Broadway productions of six of the 10 plays in Wilson's century cycle and earned Tony nods for four of them ("Joe Turner's Come and Gone," "The Piano Lesson" and "Seven Guitars" being the others.) Kenny Leon directed the Broadway debuts of the last two plays in the cycle ("Gem of the Ocean" and "Radio Golf") and could be recognized finally by the Tonys for his work on this revival of "Fences."
Photo: Denzel Washington and Viola Davis in "Fences." Credit: Cort Theatre