Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
Two Trains Running
Two Trains Running is set in 1969. The country was in conflict over civil rights and women's issues, and the anti-war movement was about to ignite. Little of that intense turbulence enters into Memphis Lee's diner. Memphis, waitress/cook Risa, and habitues Wolf, Holloway and Hambone are concerned with things more immediate to their own lives, such as pending urban renewal projects and various local eccentrics. Into this world stumbles Sterling fresh out of the penitentiary. This play is a slice of life, illuminating the lives of black people in a particular decade, as opposed to plays such as Ma Rainey's Black Bottom and The Piano Lesson, both recently produced at this theater, which have stronger plot lines. The characters are so richly drawn that the audience becomes involved in the many strands.
Two Trains Running is an ensemble piece requiring not only fine individual performances but also communal feeling for each other. Kim Sullivan as Memphis, Alan Bomar Jones as Holloway, and ranney as Hambone have all appeared together in multiple installments of the Century Cycle at American Stage and it shows. Bryant Bentley who appeared last year as Boy Willey in The Piano Lesson plays Sterling. New to the ensemble are Cranstan Cumberbatch as Wolf, Renata Eastlick as Risa, and Wilbert L. Williams, Jr. as West. All bring these multi-dimensional characters to life.
Bob Devin Jones has directed to keep things moving briskly. The excellence of all the performances is a credit to his directorial hand. American Stage is a 3/4 thrust stage so that the set is in full view as the audience enters and settles themselves. I enjoyed the few minutes to study Michael Newton Brown's atmospheric set. Costume design by Saidah Ben Judah is excellent, Sterling and Wolf in fashionable up to date clothing while Memphis and Holloway are a bit of a throwback to the late 1950s which is dramatically honest. Property design and set dressing by Jerid Fox is also well done, but I question if the lighting fixtures are not more 1980s than of the proper period. The jukebox is perfect for the period. Lighting design by Brian D. Frey and sound design by Karla Hartley are understated and effective.
I look forward to an August Wilson Century Cycle plays at American Stage in January of each year. Two Trains Running is the strongest in several years.
Two Trains Running, at American Stage Theatre Company, through February 23, 2014, 163 Third Street North, St. Petersburg. For more information, visit www.americanstage.org.
Cast (in order of appearance)
Director: Bob Devin Jones*