BWW Reviews: TWO TRAINS RUNNING Excels at Round House Theatre
Thanks mainly to former Center Stage Artistic Director Irene Lewis, I have seen every single play written by the late August Wilson. It was a decade ago that I saw their wonderful production of TWO TRAINS RUNNING directed by Marion Isaac McClinton. So when I saw that the Round House Theatre in Bethesda would be producing it, I was truly looking forward to seeing it again. If you have never seen an August Wilson play, now's the time. It is a wonderful production with an exceptional cast. And for those who are familiar with Wilson, you will not be disappointed. This the Round House Theatre's second production of an August Wilson play (FENCES many years ago) and I'm confident they will do more.
Wilson was known for writing his plays on a legal pad while he sat in the corner of a diner in St. Paul, Minnesota. He would have felt right at home in the realistic and run-down diner designed by Tony Cisek. As one enters the theater the diner obviously has seen better days. There are three sets of two chairs and tables, six stools at the counter, two red leather booths on either side of the front door, an open window into the kitchen, an authentic cash register and juke box (which doesn't work), five school house style ceiling lamps, and a weather-beaten door into the kitchen.
The menu features ONLY bean and corn muffins $.65, chicken and two sides for $2.45, and meatloff and two sides for $2.35. The sides are collard greens, mashed potatoes, green beans, macaroni and cheese, and potato salad. Hungry yet? There is also a blackboard with the RC insignia (for Royal Crown Cola) that one would think would be used for specials.
The year is 1969 and the location is Pittsburgh's Hill District which the year earlier suffered great devestation during the riots surrounding the death of Martin Luther King.
The owner of the diner is Memphis played by the always superb Jefferson A. Russell. Memphis is in the middle of an eminent domain battle with the City of Pittsburgh which has plans to demolish his diner and pay him $10,000. He wants much more, $25,000 and won't take a penny less.
His diner in a way is like the old television series "Cheers" where "everybody knows your name." And like "Cheers", the characters are really something.
Kenyatta Rogers plays the bookie "Wolf" and uses the RC blackboard to post the day's "number". Rogers is terrific. Playing the successful undertaker West is the wonderful Doug Brown.
Playing the role of "Sterling" is the superb Ricardo Frederick Evans who has just been released from prison, is unemployed and willing to do almost anything. Sterling has his eyes on the only women in the play, the waitress, cook, and busser, Risa (movingly played by the talented Shannon Dorsey).
Holloway, the retired house painter who always carries a fold paper bag, plays the philospher and Michael Anthony Williams is a joy to watch and listen to. A character I still remember from a decade ago is Hambone, who is mentally challenged. Thanks to Dramaturg Otis Cortez Ramsey-Zoe's description in the program, Hambone is a handyman who was cheated after painting a store for his promised payment of a ham (and given a chicken), spends the entire evening screaming for his ham. Frank Britton may not have many lines as Hambone but you can't help admiring his performance.
Accomplished Director Timothy Douglas has done a masterfully job with this amazing ensemble. The show which runs three hours seems to fly by. Reggie Ray is responsbile for the period costumes and Dan Covey does the wonderful lighting.
Making the evening so memorable is the work of Sound Designer Matthew M. Nielson who has assembled a terrific bit of music used between scenes. And here they are: "Doin' Our Thing" by Clarence Carter, "Crumbs off the Table" by Glass House, "Everyday People" by Sly and the Family Stone, "It's a Man's Man's Man's World" by James Brown, "I Turned You On" by the Isley Brothers, "Sunny" by Bobby Hebb, "People Get Ready" by The Impressions, "Cloud Nine" by Gladys Knight & the Pips, "Take a Look" by Aretha Franklin (the one number on the jukebox), "It's Alright" by The Impressions, and "Grazing in the Grass" by the Friends of Distinction. What great music and it helps with the mood.
There will be more opportunities to catch a Wilson play coming up. Ryan Rilette, Round House Producing Artistic Director mentions in the program that Olney Theatre Center will be presenting THE PIANO LESSON in May and next season, the Arena Stage will have KING HEDLEY II with Director Douglas directing in February, 2015. It was during the pre-Broadaway run of KING HEDLEY II at the Kennedy Center that I met playwright Wilson on the patio overlooking the Potomac. An event I will never forget.
Round House has made theater so affordable. They offer Ten Dollar Tuesdays on April 22 and 29 where they offer tickets for $10!! There will also be a Post-Show Talkback on Sunday, April 20.
For tickets, call 240-644-1100 or visit www.roundhousetheatre.org. Don't miss it.