August Wilson’s “Two Trains Running” spotlights the struggles and hopes of seven African-Americans who reside in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The year is 1969 and there is much racial tension in America. In the Hill District, impending gentrification threatens the livelihood of Memphis Lee – the proprietor of Lee’s Restaurant – and others. Inside the restaurant, which is located across the street from a funeral parlor and meat market, the seven characters reveal what they most want out of life and how they plan to get it.
The entire, two-act, Triad Stage production, which is directed by Keith Arthur Bolden, takes place inside Lee’s Restaurant. Scenic designers Moriah and Isabel Curley-Clay did not overlook anything in the design of the set. Everything from the tile floor to the cash register, juke box, telephone booth, and the lighted outdoor sign, transports the audience to 1969. In fact, the realness and arrangement of the set allows the audience – no matter one’s seat – to feel as if they are actually there. Likewise, the costumes designed by Grace McEwan, bring the year vividly to life.
On set and wearing those costumes is a brilliant set of actors who present their character’s stories in entertaining and often unsettling ways. Nathan Hinton, as Memphis Lee, is able to garner the support of the audience as he fights to get the city to pay him $25,000 for his diner.
Alexis Hudson, as Risa – the only female character in the play – is Lee’s sole waitress. Wanting a man to see her for more than her body, she cut her legs with razors in order to make herself look ugly.
Jael Pettigrew, as Sterling, a young man recently released from the penitentiary, tries to make a new start in life but is unable to find a job. His attempts to do so, along with his comical efforts to date Risa, generate considerable laughter throughout the performance.
Kerwin V. Thompson, as Wolf, a numbers runner (someone who facilitates illegal gambling), also keeps the audience chuckling through his exaggerated 1960s mannerisms.
Marvin Bell, as Holloway, speaks much about injustice and an unseen character named Aunt Esther – a 322 year old woman who imparts great wisdom upon those who visit her.
Lawrence Evans, as Hambone, a name given to the man because the only thing in life he desires is the ham that was promised to him as payment for painting a fence, captures the audience’s heart. Throughout the performance, Hambone, who is mentally challenged, repeats the words “I want my ham! He gonna give me my ham!” Some of the characters dismiss Hambone and his nine and a half year quest to get his ham; but, it is through him the audience sees the epitome of a man who won’t give up. In fact, the character Holloway tells everyone at Lee’s restaurant that Hambone “might have more sense than me and you. Cause he ain’t willing to accept whatever the white man throw at him. It be easier. But he say he don’t mind getting out of bed in the morning to go at what’s right.”
Across the street from Lee’s Restaurant is a funeral parlor owned by a man named West. Ron Bobb-Semple, as West, brings the meaning and title of the production to fruition. West reminds those at Lee’s Restaurant that as humans there are two trains that each of us will ride – life and death – and that we must strive to do our best and claim what is ours.
In “Two Trains Running,” says Bolden, the audience is “witness to the best of a person’s self [and] gives us pause to look deeper at something or someone we may have dismissed or even discarded.”
Be sure to grab your seat in Lee’s Restaurant and partake in this outstanding and memorable performance. For tickets (on sale through March 31) and/or more information, contact Triad Stage, 232 South Elm Street, Greensboro, at 336-272-0160 or triadstage.org