Highly Recommended ***** August Wilson is a name very familiar to the theater audiences of Chicago. Between the Goodman Theatre and The Court Theatre, countless productions of his award winning works have brought smiles, tears and understanding to those who were able to witness his words and ideas. The Goodman is now bringing back an amazing ride in his classic “Two Trains Running”, one of his “20th Century Cycle” stories. Last seen on the Goodman stage in 1993, this is an amazingly taut story of small dreams that fueled some of the social revolutions that are now in our history books.
The time of this particular play is 1969 and the place, The Hill District in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. The action takes place in a restaurant (Linda Buchanan’s set is magical and very realistic of the times). The area itself is going through major transitions and the world is experiencing the Civil Rights movement. There is of course a promise for a better future, but the characters that Wilson introduces us to have yet to see the new light of day through their eyes. The local “diner” Lee’s Restaurant to talk about what is happening in their part of Pittsburgh, and the blight they are living in, dominated by crime and poverty (where is this bright tomorrow?). Of course, they all have a dream, one that will take them out of what they live in today and bring them a better world.
Memphis Lee, the proprietor of this once busy restaurant (played to perfection by Terry Bellamy), is hopeful that the city will buy him out for a profitable figure. The city is, of course, able to offer what they want due to “eminent domain” laws. Memphis, feels that he should get his price! Neighbor businessman, West, the local funeral director (deftly handled by Chicago favorite A.C. Smith) is willing to buy him out, but, not even close to what Memphis is seeking.
The other characters in this play are Hambone (Ernest Perry Jr.) who appears to be a lost soul, homeless man, waiting for his Ham, that evidently he had been promised years earlier, Risa (the always reliable Nambi E. Kelley) a waitress in the diner, Holloway (stunningly played by Alfred H. Wilson), an old timer who knows a lot and is not afraid to offer up his lore, Wolf (Anthony Irons) a “numbers” runner, “gangsta” type and Sterling, the newcomer, recently paroled from prison (Chester Gregory, in as good a portrayal as Eriq LaSalle’s back in 1993), who is probably the biggest dreamer of them all.
The title of the play, “Two Trains Running” is not what you might expect. There is no actual train involved in this story, but rather that there are ALWAYS “two Trains Running”- that represent life and death. Everyone will ride both and it is up to us as to what we do between these rides. Think back to this period of time, The 1960’s were filled with many terrible events that had an effect on our lives and those who followed- The assassination of Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King, the anti-war demonstrations that caused riots on the streets of every major city. While this play is fairly lengthy (2 and a half hours plus), the story is one that should be seen by a generation that is only taught bits and pieces of what was going on at the time. Wilson, was indeed a chronicler of the times in his plays, which told it like it was, in particular for the African-American.
Directed by Chuck Smith who has a solid understanding of the poetic words written by Wilson, this cast of seven is very enjoyable to watch. Each character becomes very realistic and we the audience, develop a feeling for each.While we know that Sterling is a dreamer, we hope that this young man can indeed break away from the pattern of becoming what he doesn’t want to be. When he plays the numbers and wins, he wants what is his and goes after it. I know that many of you are not aware of what the “numbers” game is, so here is a simple explanation:
In the African-American neighborhoods, all over the United States, there were runners who would take your dime (or more) and you could place it on a series of numbers (three, I believe was the usual). This was sort of like a lottery. At the end of the day, three numbers were selected and if they were your numbers, all the money invested would be yours ( less the house percentage). If many people played the same numbers, (as in the lottery) , the proceeds would be divided. Pretty simple, and lots of money changed hands.
I guess most people look at Hambone, Perry is tremendous in his interpretation) as the most sympathetic of the characters. Taken from another Wilson play, here is a man that was promised payment for his labor in the form of a ham, but instead was given a chicken- he only wants what was promised to him and it is young Sterling, who makes sure that justice is served (I will not tell you the details, as it would ruin the wonder of what transpires). Just think about this- we all want what has been promised or agreed to and in particular, the African-Americans from the time they were promised freedom, did not get what they were supposed to get. Wilson had a great way of bringing this to light in all of his works, but in particular in this epic tale. If you have seen his other works, you will truly enjoy this one. If you have never seen one of August Wilson’s plays, isn’t it about time?
Tuesday April 7th at 7:30 p.m.
Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m.
Thursdays 2 and 7:30 p.m.
Fridays at 8 p.m.
Saturdays at 2 and 8 p.m.
Sundays 2 and 7:30 p.m.
(except 4/5 and 12th- no evening)
Tickets range from $27-$80 and are available at the box office located 170 North Dearborn, by calling 312-443-3800 or online at www.GoodmanTheatre.org/TwoTrains
Special events can be seen on www.GoodmanTheatre.org
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