“Who am I to tell my private nightmares to if I can’t tell them to you?”

— Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot: A Tragicomedy in Two Acts

Here at last is the only filmed version of any of the great African American playwright August Wilson’s 10 prize winning plays.

“Fences,” as all of his plays do, celebrates the history of the black experience in America. Wilson completed the screen play for this version shortly before his death in 2005.

“Fences” is the story, the wail, the moan and muffled scream of Troy Maxson, an African American man born into racism and poverty; and who better to bring it to life on the screen than the towering Denzel Washington.

Troy played ball in the Negro Leagues and played well, but not well enough. And because in his youth he killed a man in a bar fight and went to prison for it, he wears the crime around his neck like the Ancient Mariner’s albatross, into an angry late middle age.

When we meet Troy he is aging fast, his hair graying and his weight shoved into baggy clothes, as he tosses garbage cans around the back of a truck with his best friend from prison days, Bono (a wonderful Stephen McKinley Henderson).

Together they plod around through Pittsburgh’s summer heat and winter’s wind tossing jokes and complaints, fears and memories, back and forth.

Like Samuel Becket’s two tramps Estrogen and Vladimir in “Waiting for Godot,” Troy and Bono are like prisoners frozen in a white man’s gulag.

Here in a postage-stamp sized yard, where Troy’s wooden fence stands unfinished day after month after year, the two men come each evening after trotting behind their garbage truck, to share a single bottle of cheap gin.

Bono is the straight man in this comedy of pain, listening to Troy’s never ending, repetitious monologue day after day.

Other men would have walked away long ago, but Bono stays, because there is love between them, and it takes such a love to spend time with Troy, a non stop bloviator.

The greatest dispenser of love is of course, Rose, the long suffering wife. Rose is Viola Davis; the great, the wonderful, the breathtaking Viola Davis, who shatters the screen and leaves us, each moment, in tears.

It is without a doubt, the greatest performance of any actor, man or woman, on screen this year. Despite Denzel’s power role and a splendid cast, it is Viola Davis as Rose, who is the heart, lungs, flesh and blood of “Fences.” It is Rose who is the real fence, keeping love in and ugliness out.

As Troy confesses a tragic misdeed, Viola performs the most magical transformation I have ever seen on screen.

You will know at once you are in the presence of greatness.

Denzel is always good, as actor and director of the film, and I imagine that in his 2010 Broadway Tony award performance that starred the same cast, he delivered the same splendid performance.

“Fences” will undoubtedly be showered with nominations and probably fill the stage this season with a parade of long neglected African American talent.

J.P. Devine is a former stage and screen actor.

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