Two Trains Running is the seventh play in the Twentieth Century American cycle by August Wilson. There are ten plays each set in a different decade. It takes place in 1969 Pittsburgh in a diner that is destined to be torn down by the city because of urban blight in the neighborhood. Wilson is a naturalist and like Tennessee Williams is a great poet. His language and characters are highly quotable while sounding realistic. It is this attention to authentic language and character truths that immerses the audience in the unique world that is an August Wilson play.
Memphis, (G. Valmont Thomas) the owner of the diner, is nervously awaiting an offer from the city, as they plan to demolish it. At one time the diner was crowded and very successful, but the neighborhood has suffered a large slump in business. A modern freeway was recently built, separating it from the rest of the city. His only employee is the slow but steady Risa, (Erika LaVonn) who is both funny and somber at the same time.
Other characters include recently released convict Sterling (Robert Manning Jr.) who is trying to catch a break to start a legit life, Wolf (LeLand Grant) the rich undertaker of the neighborhood, Holloway, (Abdul Salaam El Razzac) the neighborhood retired patriarch and Hambone (Godfrey L. Simmons, Jr.) who is barely functional in the real world. There is plenty of broken dreams and resentment in this play and there is no one who is left untouched by the sixties civil rights movement and the prejudiced inflicted upon American Africans at mid-century. Even Wolf, who continues to get rich, emphasizes and sympathizes with the plight of his friends all around him.
This is a polished and accomplished production, with fantastic lived in performances by its seven cast ensemble. There is a fluidity to their interaction that feels as if these people really know each other. Director Timothy Bond is excellent with actors and creates great atmosphere. What little plot there is hinges on some central questions, “How much will Memphis get from the city for his diner?” “Will Sterling get a job?” “Will Risa find love?”
How much you enjoy Two Trains Running may depend on how much you like Wilson as a dramatist. His singular voice and fantastic command of language and dialogue could convert most theatergoers. Additionally his themes have tremendous resonance and historical and political authenticity. These things make up for a lot of talk and for times when there seems to be little conflict.
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