“Two Trains Running” by August Wilson is a powerful and meaningful play wrapped in a layer of humor and subtlety. Wilson’s characteristic style shines through and the play does not disappoint.
As is customary in most August Wilson plays, ‘Two Trains Running” is set in Pittsburgh in the 1960s. The entire play is set in a diner with only five main characters, each with an individual conflict they are attempting to solve.
The diner is owned by Memphis (Terry Bellamy), who is deciding whether or not to allow the government to buy his restaurant. Risa (Nambi Kelley) works for Memphis and silently attempts to resist male domination and objectification by scarring her legs to appear less attractive, and by cooking and delivering food as slow as possible.
Wolf (Anthony Irons) is a regular at the diner and, much to Memphis’s chagrin, often uses the diner’s phone to try to organize the buying and selling of lottery tickets. Hambone (Ernest Perry Jr.) is a mentally disabled homeless man, who is desperately trying to get the ham he was promised years ago. Lastly, Sterling (Chester Gregory) is a newcomer in the diner, full of big hopes and dreams, trying to find success despite his poor economic status.
The play is presented as a fluid coming-and-going of characters in Memphis’ diner, and each of their individual conflicts are revealed through the conversations they have and the mannerisms they show to the audience. For example, Memphis is trying to save his diner, and he refuses to give in and sell it to the government for anything less than the price he wants. Wolf’s dream is to win the lottery, and buys tickets every round, regardless of the fact that he loses every time. Hambone’s only desire is to receive some ham that he was promised years ago. Though each storyline seems unconnected from the other, they all weave together to paint a picture of determination, resilience, and pride.
Wilson crafts a play that is both extremely subtle in the way it communicates with the audience, but is also incredibly powerful.
For example, Risa has very few lines during the play but her character is revealed through her actions, such as her refusal to bring sugar with the coffee that the customers order until they specifically request, “Give me some sugar, Risa.” In this way her mute fight against male domination becomes clear. Much of the play is like Risa, quiet and slow to start, but eventually it gets its point across. Its slow pace is the reason it is so powerful.
Aside from the poignant storyline, “Two Trains Running” has a fascinating set. It never changes throughout the story, but the detail and work that is put into its creation shows. The diner seems as though it were taken straight from a photograph from the 1960s, with a tiled floor, bar stools by the counter, and a jukebox in the corner. This attention to detail allows the audience to be transported to the time period, as the set and costumes are exactly right.
“Two Trains Running” is a complete success at the Goodman this year. With intriguing characters, a meticulous set, and a powerful story, it is a must see.