Bonstelle Theatre stages brilliant production of August Wilson’s ‘Fences’

By Patty Nolan, reposted from The Examiner. Read the full review here.

Rose Maxson (Will Bryson) and Troy Maxson (Kayla Mundy). Courtesy Bonstelle Theatre

Rose Maxson (Will Bryson) and Troy Maxson (Kayla Mundy). Courtesy Bonstelle Theatre

A fence means something different depending on which side of it one happens to be standing. A fence can be used to define a border – it signals “this is mine, not yours.” A fence can protect what’s inside from those on the outside; conversely, it can imprison people inside who long to get out.

In August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning play “Fences,” garbage collector Troy Maxson deals with literal and metaphorical fences as he struggles to make a better life for his family in 1950s-era Chicago. This new Bonstelle production, the latest outstanding effort by Director Lynch R. Travis, is a compelling story about a family struggling with race relations, paternal responsibility and the gap in generational expectations that affect every family dynamic.

As the play opens, Troy (Will Bryson) is bragging to his friend and co-worker, Bono (Danté Jones), about how he officially complained to management because only the white workers get to drive the garbage trucks, while the African American garbage men are required to lift and empty the heavy cans all day long. We sense that this is a common theme with Troy – the expectation that a black man must work twice as hard as the white man and be happy with half the reward. We quickly learn that Troy is an imaginative, proud, physically strong man who carries a deep resentment against his father, against the white-man’s world, and against anyone who challenges his authority.

Troy’s stories of his own exploits are hilariously larger than life – including a wrestling match with Death himself. Troy’s wife Rose (Kalya Mundy) tries to leaven Troy’s big talk with practical words, but it only seems to provoke Troy to tell bigger, more outrageous stories. As we watch him sawing boards for the fence he is building, he reminisces about swatting baseballs over the outfield fence back when he was one of the highest scoring players in the Negro Leagues. Even with his mighty swing, he couldn’t clear the racial barrier that kept African Americans from playing Major League Baseball. And when that fence came down, after WWII, Troy was too old to compete. Now in his early ‘50s, his resentment includes the men of color who now play in the majors – certain that their skills are nothing compared to his own prowess.

Read the full review here.


Spotlight on Alumni: Henrí D. Franklin – Undergraduate Theatre Major Makes it to Hollywood!

The Department of Theatre at Wayne State University announces the daytime acting debut of alumnus Henrí D. Franklin.  Franklin joined the cast of the Emmy-winning television show Days of Our Lives on Wednesday, April 21.  Last November, upon the encouragement of some friends, Franklin participated in an open casting call contest sponsored by Days of Our Lives, NBC affiliate WDIV Local 4 and the MGM Grand in Detroit.  Franklin was chosen out of several thousand hopeful actors to appear in an open-ended role with the possibility of returning for future episodes.

In a recent interview, Franklin mentioned that large casting calls (cattle calls) were not normally something he gave much time to, but he decided to go because three separate friends contacted him and insisted he give it a try.

Louise Sorel (Vivian Alamain), Henrí D. Franklin (Nurse Greg), Nadia Bjorlin (Chloe Lane) in Days of Our Lives, 2010

While a student in the Department of Theatre at Wayne State, Franklin and his classmate, Thomas Harris, accomplished something that no other theatre students at Wayne State had done before.   A play they had written was produced as an actual Wayne State Theatre production in the university’s Studio Theatre. The play, Before There Was Broadway, was inspired by the true story of the first Black acting company, The African Company, which came out of lower Manhattan in the early 1800s. The company was a controversial group because it formed when slavery was still legal in the South, and also because it was an “integrated theatre,” meaning black and white actors performed together in its productions. Franklin had learned about The African Company in one of his acting classes. The play was so successful that it was sold out for six out of the seven performances.

The Director of the Black Theatre Program at Wayne State University, Aku Kadogo, had the following to say about her former student:

“I had the pleasure of directing Mr. Henrí Franklin in his last semester at WSU in The Adventures of a Black Girl in Search of God. I cast him in one of the leading roles. He was great to direct because he did his “homework” and came to each rehearsal prepared with new material. But it was our conversations on the side of the production which really struck me. He informed me that he is a writer and that he and his partner, Thomas Harris, had already produced a play and that what he really wanted to do was start his own company. So I began to mentor him in becoming an independent producer and in how to effectively network. I have included him on panels I’ve conducted and recommended him to advisory boards of community organizations.  And he is now indeed the director of his own company.  I really believe in listening to the voices of our ‘up and coming’ students, and Henrí’s voice is clear, strong, creative, disciplined and determined.”

Louise Sorel (Vivian Alamain), Henrí D. Franklin (Nurse Greg) in Days of Our Lives, 2010

Along with two of his Wayne State University classmates, Anton Bassey and Thomas Harris, Henrí Franklin co-founded Project Theatre Company in Detroit.   All productions put on by the Project Theatre Company are productions they write themselves. These productions, Franklin says, are inspired from ideas that come from everywhere, mostly from real life experiences, like the many hardships that Detroiters and Americans country wide are currently facing, for example. In addition to his involvement with Project Theatre Company, Henri Franklin uses his skills in theater as a means of teaching others life skills. Franklin is involved in three youth organizations, Teen Hype, Arts League, and Michigan Youth Theatre, in which he uses what he knows best, drama, to teach children of all ages how to act and how to use their new skills in their everyday lives.

Days of Our Lives airs weekdays on NBC at 1:00 P.M. Eastern Standard Time and on SOAPnet weeknights at 6:00 P.M. and again at 11:00 P.M.

The "A Christmas Carol" performed at Detroit tradition, Noel Night

Image by Jeffrey Cotnoir for WSU Theatres

On Saturday, December 5, 2009, the Bonstelle Company showcased a sneak-peak performance of the much anticipated A Christmas Carol, playing now through December 13, 2009 at the Bonstelle Theatre. As special guests of the DIA, the Bonstelle Company took part in Detroit’s Noel Night. Following the performance, company members raced over to the Bonstelle to perform the full-length production just a few hours later. Never a dull moment for Detroit’s Premier Undergraduate Theatre!

The 2009-2010 Louise Heck-Rabi Scholarship Playwriting Competition Semi-Finals!

The Heck-Rabi playwriting competition critique is this week! Make sure you check out the battle of the playwrights down at the Studio as guest critic John Sousanis, drama critic and former Acting Artistic Director of Meadow Brook Theatre looks on. (He also is the publisher and co-founder of

As a reminder, the semi-finalists are:

All Kinds of Men by Erman Jones, Easy as Hard Can Be by Alan Ball, Untitled by Brian Sage, Four Horsemen by Rob Pantano, Furnishings by Gregory Bailey, Opposite Sides of the Line by Jordan Whalen & Visceral Memory by Sean M. Davis.


The schedule of the critiques is:

Thursday September 24th from 9:30 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.
1. Opposite Sides of the Line by Jordan Whalen
2. Easy as Hard Can Be by Alan Ball

Thursday September 24th from 1:30 p.m. – 4:15 p.m.
3. Furnishings by Greg Bailey
4. Visceral Memory by Sean M. Davis

Friday September 25th from 9:30 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.
5. The Four Horsemen by Rob Pantano
6. Untitled by Brian P. Sage
7. All Kinds of Men by Erman Jones

Where: The Studio Theatre (Downstairs at the Hilberry)

Admission: Free!

The following Hilberry and Bonstelle company members will take part:


Dave Toomey, Andrew Papa, Samantha Rosentrater, Jason Cabral, Justin Vanden Heuval, Alan Ball, Erman Jones, Carollette Phillips, Jordan Whalen, Safiya Johnson, Peter Prouty, Lorelei Sturm, Sara Hymes, Chris Ellis, Christina Flynn, Rob Pantano, Brian P. Sage


Ben Williams, Justin Crutchfield, Brian Yacoo, Katie Lietz, Kyle Holton, Chris Tucker, Rachel Porter, Erica Fuller