Through December 8
TWO TRAINS RUNNING African American Cultural Center/Paul Robeson Theatre
America’s Urban Renewal Program tore down square miles of cities on the theory they would be replaced by new development.
As anyone who has lived in Buffalo for very long knows, it didn’t happen or at least for many decades.
Playwright August Wilson witnessed urban renewal as it tore apart his neighborhood in the Hill District of Pittsburgh.
In his ten plays about Black life in America, most center on that community.
In “Two Trains Running,” much of the community has been torn down and much more will go soon.
That includes Memphis’ restaurant.
Memphis (Fisher) has spent years building the restaurant, a refugee from the South who talks about going back and getting back the old family farm, which some rich White guy maneuvered to take away from him.
The real secret to the restaurant appears to be the work of Risa (Debbi Davis), the chief cook and bottle washer while Memphis reads the paper and supervises.
He knows the restaurant is going to be taken away from him but knows what cash payment he wants for his building, a structure he apparently owns.
That wasn’t always common in Black neighborhoods, but Memphis fires the Black lawyer who has been handling the case and hires a White fixer Downtown.
The neighborhood drifts in and out, the undertaker Mr. West across the street (Al Garrrison), Holloway the retired guy (Hugh Davis), Hambone the local loudmouth who is consistently proclaiming he deserves a ham from the market across the street and which he claims cheated him (Michael Hicks), Wolf the numbers guy who uses the restaurant phone (Vincenzo McNeill) and Sterling, the ex-con who wants something better (a commanding Roosevelt Tidwell III).
You can see where it’s going, although you don’t expect it be this long.
Even a reviewer can fade as the story goes past three hours.
The play is simplified because everything takes place in the restaurant.
That gives director Edward G. Smith everything he needs for a fine production, strong cast, Harlan Penn’s usual strong set and tight direction.
One of the key elements in Wilson’s work is he roles for Black actors and that’s particularly true with “two trains,” Sterling, Memphis, Risa and Hambone.
Just be sure to have extra coffee because this runs on.
Having said that, “Two Trains Running,” is a worthy element in Wilson’s epic look at the 20th Century.
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