Warren Jackson, Jacqui Parker & Jermel Nakia

Warren Jackson, Jacqui Parker & Jermel Nakia

Let me help you make your Labor Day Weekend plans! Start by heading up to glorious Gloucester for a remarkable Gloucester Stage Company production of August Wilson’s 1987 Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpiece FENCES, featuring an extraordinary performance among many great performances that make this production a must-see.  FENCES is one of a cycle of ten plays charting the 20th century African-American experience decade by decade. This installment–like nine of the ten– is set in Pittsburgh– Wilson’s childhood home.

It’s 1957 and Troy Maxson is raising his family in the shadow of bitterness. Once a star in the Negro baseball leagues, he was never able to cross the racial divide and ascend to the major’s,  and is now scraping by as a garbage man. Daver Morrison is heroic, compelling, and fierce– if not quite towering, as Troy. His son Cory, a sensitive and increasingly strong Jared Michael Brown, is intimidated and confused by his father’s outsize persona and simmering rage. Is Troy road-blocking Cory’s college football scholarship out of jealousy? Or trying to protect his son from the sting of racial prejudice by having him lower his aim? Jacqui Parker is funny, tough and tender as Troy’s long-suffering wife Rose, and Gregory Marlow is fine as Troy’s best friend and conscience Jim Bono.

The entire ensemble is accomplished–and then some. One performance catapults this production and Wilson’s themes into rarefied air: JERMEL NAKIA is absolutely transcendent as Troy’s brother Gabriel, brain-damaged from his injuries in World War II. It’s a shattering, goose bump-inducing performance that verges on the otherworldly, so viscerally does Nakia inhabit the wounded man’s soul. Gabriel raises the roof in the last scene, a catharsis of pain, grace, and redemption that sent me out of the theater enlightened– and knowing I had seen one of the best performances ever given by a human being. Eric C. Engel directs this stirring production with an honest, sure hand.  Don’t miss FENCES at the GLOUCESTER STAGE COMPANY through 9/7.

And that’s not all!!  Fill up the tank and get out your compasses–my colleague WBUR’s Ed Siegel has done the legwork and here are his suggestions:


The Cape Ann Museum has always been one of our favorite stopping-off points in Gloucester, but it’s been closed this summer, at least until last weekend. Andrea Shea talked to Ronda Faloon about the renovations, and its great collection of the artist formerly known as Fitz Hugh Lane. It’s Fitz Henry to you now and Faloon says he’s being shown in a better light. Literally.

Fitz Henry Lane, "Gloucester Harbor from Rocky Neck," 1844. (Courtesy Cape Ann Museum)

Fitz Henry Lane, “Gloucester Harbor from Rocky Neck,” 1844. (Courtesy Cape Ann Museum)

Once you’ve taken in his “Gloucester Harbor from Rocky Neck” head over to Rocky Neck for some fried clams — I’m partial to The Studio — before taking in August Wilson’s “Fences” at the Gloucester Stage Company. Here’s what Jeremy Goodwin had to say in the Boston Globe. (“Fences” runs another week after Labor Day.)

"Turner and the Sea" at the Peabody-Essex Museum. Joseph Mallord William Turner. "Fishermen at Sea" (Exhibited 1796.) © Tate. Purchased 1972.

“Turner and the Sea” at the Peabody-Essex Museum. Joseph Mallord William Turner. “Fishermen at Sea” (Exhibited 1796.) © Tate. Purchased 1972.

It’s also the final weekend to see the highly acclaimed “Turner and the Sea” at the Peabody Essex Museum. Anthony Brooks got there early for Radio Boston and was impressed: “Like so many of his paintings that followed, ‘Fishermen at Sea’ depicts the power and mystery of the ocean. Turner’s work spoke to an island nation — defined by sea and sea power — and this painting proved that he was a master.”

Here’s the Radio Boston piece.


Brenda Withers and Stacy Fischer in "Sister Play" at Harbor Stage Company. (Courtesy)

Brenda Withers and Stacy Fischer in “Sister Play” at Harbor Stage Company. (Courtesy)

Or should we go to the Cape? I love what the Harbor Stage Company does and Loren King, in the Globe, raved about the world premiere of John Kolvenbach’s “Sister Play” (through Sept. 6) which the playwright is directing. Hard to go wrong with Brenda Withers and Stacy Fischer.

Back on Route 6, Tennessee Williams wasn’t particularly known for his comedy, but he did write an affecting one about two warring couples on Christmas Eve. I liked the version I saw at the Berkshire Theatre Festival some years ago and the Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater has its version going on through Sept. 21.


The cast of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at Shakespeare & Company. (Kevin Sprague)

The cast of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at Shakespeare & Company. (Kevin Sprague)

Or back to the Berkshires? Shakespeare & Company always has a great Labor Day weekend festival. I liked “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” set in New Orleans and had mixed feelings about “Julius Caesar” (Review here. Nigel Gore is back as Caesar.) Since then Jeremy Goodwin, who also contributes to the ARTery, was rapturous about Jonathan Epstein’s combined “Henry IV, Parts I and II,” rolled into one play. He tweeted: “The Henry IV at @shakeandco right now is one of the best Shakespeare productions I’ve seen there. Bravo to director Jonathan Epstein.” We’d also like to see how they go about Christopher Durang’s “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” to measure against the Huntington’s version next season.

Michael V. Gazzo’s “A Hatful of Rain” concludes the Berkshire Theatre Group season while Barrington Stage Company tips its hat to William Finn.

The Boston Symphony Orchestra has left Tanglewood, which has apparently given up on the jazz festival in favor of Train on Friday and Josh Groban Saturday. It’s hard to imagine Tony Bennett giving up the U.S. Open and Roger Federer this weekend, but he’ll be at Tanglewood with his daughter, Antonia, on Sunday.

The Norman Rockwell Museum has a fascinating little exhibit on “The Unknown Hopper: Edward Hopper as Illustrator.” He wasn’t as enamored of illustration as was Rockwell, but it does shed an interesting narrative on his later work.

The Clark Art Institute's new entrance. (Tucker Bair)

The Clark Art Institute’s new entrance. (Tucker Bair)

The northern hills have the real treasure trove of art. I had a great weekend there recently (roundup here) at the Williams College of Art, MASS MoCA and at the Clark Art Institute with its dramatic new opening to the Berkshires. The Clark also has a small but illuminating exhibit of abstract art, but it’s the museum itself that’s the main draw this year.

MASS MoCA is always a blast — getting lost in the funhouse of the various exhibits — but if you’re looking for something to do at night try one of the Courtyard concerts. The Grammy-winning Roomful of Teeth Friday night and a dance party with Brooklyn funk band Emefe Saturday night. The vibe’s great in the Courtyard when the weather allows.