By George Maguire
Recognized as one of the greatest voices in American theater, Pittsburgh native August Wilson set out with the task of chronicling a century of the African American experience with ten plays reflecting each decade of the 20th century.
Two Trains Running is his 1960s play, bringing to life the assassination of Martin Luther King, inner city re-development and subsequent brewing discontent.
Set in Home Style, a restaurant in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania’s Hill District, we meet owner Memphis (Lamont Thompson – an actor of endless vocal variety and passion), as he prepares for the inevitable selling of his property to the city, which will tear it down eliminating both history and the convivial meeting place for the few remaining patrons.
Memphis has property in Jackson, Mississippi and he is eager to take one of the daily two trains running from Pittsburgh to Jackson to set claim with the papers he owns on his entitled land.
I love this play…
This play always resonates home for me, as I am from Pittsburgh and can recall when a vast swath of the Hill District was torn down to build the huge City Arena where I would begin my own career as a professional actor. The inhabitants were simply given notice and moved. Eminent domain! No choice! Literally hundreds of families and the history of a vital and thriving section of Pittsburgh ended in the 1960s.
What makes Two Trains Running so remarkable is that as we are introduced to seven characters whose threatened lives bring the play to life, there is no bombast as their idiosyncratic personalities express pain, humor and a searching for some continuity. We meet Wolf, a dynamic and always plotting numbers-runner played to slithering perfection by Kenny Scott. There is Holloway (a remarkable Michael Asberry), the moral compass of the café, always there, always at the down front table ready for a coffee and a chess game and a tete-a-tete conversation with Memphis.
The stage is then energized by Eddie Ewell as Sterling. Fresh out of the state pen, he is glib and suave. Mr. Ewell fills the room with effortless radiance with a smile and guile that can melt the heart of Risa the waitress (Sam Jackson) whose life, it seems, is to refill the always emptying coffee cups and dish out the cornbread and chicken, which seem to be the only foodstuffs served at the Home Style. Risa has a secret which has protected her from any assault. Jackson hides the daily grind and the pain with a quiet resolve.
Home Style is across the street from West’s Funeral Home. Khary L. Moye’s West, wearing his black suit and black gloves at all times, proudly announces his many Cadillacs, the dream cars of the black experience, are always in tip-top shape readying for the next death. Lastly and most movingly there is Hambone, whose two reiterated lines “I wants my ham. He gonna give me my ham!” brings us to tears in Michael Wayne Rice’s simple rendering of this sad complicated man.
Wilson’s play is filled with lengthy but distinctive monologues as Memphis and Holloway especially bring us Wilson’s prescient, proud profundities with shooting arrow precision. “No wonder Justice is wearing a blindfold” . . . “We are all a part of everything that came before.” The play is directed with infinite care and precision by Dawn Monique Williams. Even the scene changes under sound designer Gregory Robinson’s haunting work bringing the shifting passage of time are a part of Ms. Williams’ clarity.
I love this play and its bold attempt not to be bold, but just be! It is never boring. All we have to do is listen. Listen to the beating hearts of the black men and women impatiently and patiently knowing that change is coming.
Sometimes it’s the quiet ones who scream the loudest in our hearts,
ASR Contributing Writer George Maguire is San Francisco based actor-director and is Professor Emeritus of Solano College Theatre. He is a voting member of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle. Contact: email@example.com
|Production||Two Trains Running|
|Written by||August Wilson|
|Directed by||Dawn Monique Williams|
|Producing Company||Marin Theatre Company (MTC)|
|Production Dates||Through Dec. 18th|
|Production Address||Marin Theatre Company
397 Miller Avenue
Mill Valley, CA
|Tickets||$25.50 – $60.50|
|Reviewer Score||Max in each category is 5/5|
|Aisle Seat Review PICK?||YES!|