Negotiating happiness in East Garfield Park: a review of Simoncic's "Broken Fences"

playwright Steven Simoncic

As a young American aspiring to a happy home, how can you live conscientiously and economically in the modern city? This is the central question explored in Steven Simoncic’s  “Broken Fences,” playing through October 26 at Berwyn’s 16th Street Theater.  

The 120-minute production has well-drawn characters, delightful dialog, poetic interludes, and expert pacing. It very efficiently accomplishes theater’s function: getting an audience to consider important realities through artistic illusions.  I recommend it without reservation.

Part of my enthusiasm is personal. I could identify with Czar (Scott Allen Luke)  and his pregnant wife April (Kirsten D’Aurelio), who have chosen not to flee to the suburbs (as my wife and I did) but instead bravely pioneer the gentrification of East Garfield Park. They buy a rehabbed townhouse next to Hoodie (the great Daniel J. Bryant) and D (Krenee A. Tolson), and begin their struggle to establish security for themselves and community with 
their new neighbors, two goals that seem difficult, and maybe impossible, to reconcile. 

The play made me ask whether, had we chosen to make our home in the city and not in the safer, easier suburbs, I could have done better than Czar and April. After all, as a dad one becomes “caveman-like” in his determination to protect his brood, and there will be less-than-ideal outcomes when a father fights against fear (that seeps through the titular “Broken Fences”) and pursues his particular version of happiness.

actor Daniel J. Bryant
One of the tragic elements of “Broken Fences” comes in the unhappy compromises that each of the main characters is forced to make in order to accommodate their American dreams with the changing reality of the city. No one is left unchanged, and it is tantalizingly uncertain whether the changes leave them better off. As Czar claims in his epiphanal speech, “You build your walls, and make your calls.”

Go see “Broken Fences” and ask those questions for yourself. I really believe that if enough Americans did, it would make for a better, more compassionate society.

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