‘Two Trains’ heartrending end to Weston season

Memphis tells Risa to bring the new customer coffee as everyone else looks on. All photos by Hubert Schriebl

By Bob Behr
©2018 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Theater-goers at Weston Playhouse at Walker Farm are getting a huge treat this month, with August Wilson’s heartrending, heartwarming drama Two Trains Running. The play is the latest in Weston’s American Masters series.

And, yes, this is the work of a master. Two Trains Running is a compelling, visionary narrative, eloquently written with great wisdom and wonderful sparks of humor.

August Wilson’s script is political and personal. Set against a 1960s backdrop of racial tension, anxiety about money, and impending gentrification, the play’s characters speak powerfully about their everyday lives. Even now, 50 years later, their voices ring clear.

Sterling and Risa share a moment.

Two Trains Running has a single set: the tidy, homey interior of a small diner in downtown Pittsburgh in 1969. Wilson zeroes in on seven African-American citizens who call the diner home, a “family” of unrelated people whose histories and dreams are more intertwined than they seem to be at first glance.

Any production of Two Trains Running can succeed only if the play’s seven actors inhabit its simple uncluttered set as a fully-blended ensemble. Gloriously, the cast of this Weston production, directed by Reginald L. Douglas, prove themselves equal to the task.

The impressive acting team features Raphael Peacock as Memphis, the diner’s proprietor whose struggling business is threatened by urban renewal, and Cary Hite as Wolf, a numbers runner who uses the diner as a kind of office. Peacock’s Memphis is a blustery, volatile, vocal guy who can be exuberant and ambitious one minute, angry and anguished the next. Peacock handles his character’s mood-swings deftly.

Cary Hite’s Wolf is restrained and controlled. Though conventional observers would call Wolf a shady character, in the world of Two Trains Running he’s a steadying presence, an anchor – and Hite does a fine job making him human, not just a slick stereotype.

Wolf, Holloway, and Memphis talk about the changing world.

Guiesseppe Jones takes on the complex role of Holloway, a smart, intensely cynical and mouthy retiree – and he nails it. Both Beethovan Oden as the traumatized, almost-mute Hambone and Lawrence Evans as the jaded funeral director West deliver excellent performances.

Completing the onstage team – and making it sparkle with an extra dose of personality – are two young actors, Eboni Flowers and Bernard Gilbert. As the waitress Risa, the play’s only female role, Flowers is subtle, sad, and ultimately proves herself to be one gutsy woman. Bernard Gilbert turns a potentially shallow character, a smooth-talking ex-con aptly named Sterling, into a vulnerable young man who tries, maybe too hard sometimes, to latch onto something beautiful. Gilbert’s gliding, almost balletic, physical presence on stage — and his spectacular grins — capture his character’s essence and in turn capture the audience.

Memphis and West talk about the day over coffee.

Backing up and lifting up the onstage ensemble is a team of talented designers whose creative touches have made Walker Farm’s intimate 100-seat space even more personal. Alexander Woodward’s set drops us into 1969 diner mode with warm, optimistic dots of color. Sarita Fellows’ pitch-perfect costumes, Amith Chandrashaker’s lighting, and Sinan Refik Zafar’s historically evocative music and sound clips are all expertly executed.

Two Trains Running is one of August Wilson’s 10 Century Cycle plays, tracing the daily lives of African Americans through each decade of the 20th century. But in his writings and interviews, Wilson was clear in pointing out that these are human dramas meant for audiences of all colors and stripes, and his characters’ sufferings and triumphs speak to us all.

This fine production at Weston Playhouse’s Walker Farm closes the summer-into-fall season with a bang. It will grab your emotions. It will make you think and laugh. It will speak to you.

Two Trains Running continues at the Weston Playhouse at Walker Farm, 705 Main St., Weston, through Oct. 21. Performances are Friday and Saturday evenings at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday matinees at 2 p.m.; and Sunday matinees at 3 p.m. Tickets: Adults $43; students $21.50. To purchase tickets, click here. Directors Talks are held at 7:05 p.m. before each Friday and Saturday evening performance. For information, call 802-824-5288.

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