America’s most prolific playwright, August Wilson created a series of 10 plays that focus on black life through the decades, mostly in Pittsburgh, PA. Most of the series of plays have had runs in the Kansas City area over the past 6-7 years. Number seven, “Two Trains Running” opened Friday, Dec. 3 at the Just Off Broadway Theatre.
Produced by Kansas City Melting Pot Theatre, Melonnie Walker directed the Wilson drama that focuses on seven characters in a struggling diner that the city plans to buy, demolish and further erase the black area as gentrification slowly chews up neighborhoods and eliminates local businesses.
Wilson’s characters, always interesting, deliver the local dialog that provides the drama and message of his piece. The one character that consistently spoke to the inequality and expectations, Hambone, appears to be mentally challenged yet speaks the truth of the play. Hambone was promised a ham for painting a white proprietor’s business and was given a chicken instead. For almost 10 years, he went back demanding his promised ham. What he received instead of the promised prize was what the proprietor chose to give him. His rant demonstrates the struggle of black society to receive what has been promised.
As for the local cafe/diner that has fallen on tough times with a shrinking clientele because nearby businesses closed, were bought out, or burned out. Not only has his business declined, his menu reflects the struggle to hold on long enough to win a fair settlement from the city to purchase his business. Memphis, the diner owner, wants to collect big on selling his diner that he knows will be torn down; and he only wants enough to restart a better café in a better neighborhood. But, his fight remains against the city–which again represents white privilege and he will only get what they offer.
Another business man, the local undertaker owns the only successful business in the area because the locals continue to pass on and need his services for funerals and burials. He, too, wants to buy the diner and then sell for a profit.
A numbers runner also knows and services the neighborhood as many locals play the numbers hoping to get rich. But, when their numbers match, they learn that their profits get cut in half and their dreams remain just out of reach. Another character, fresh out of prison for bank robbery wants a get rich quick scheme so he can marry and drive a Cadillac–the symbol of success to him. His odds of success dwindle daily because there are no good jobs available and common labor pays about $10/day.
The other two characters a daily customer who dispenses Wilson’s heavy truths drinks coffee at the diner and interacts with all the other characters. He is the unifying factor with the others. In his dialogues with them, August Wilson’s attitude and truths stand out. It’s almost like the playwright is talking to them.
The final character, a waitress, finds her life’s value lies in how fast she can cook, clean, wash dishes, shop for groceries, buy baked goods, take orders, and serve. She does all the cooking, cleaning and work at the diner as a one woman Jill-of-all-trades. She represents the role of women in a man’s world. Her character speaks loudly to the role of women in the society depicted in “Two Trains Running.”
The entire cast richly portray each part. They understand the characters and bring more than just words to the production. They represent so many in similar situations. And the Wilson dialogue rings solidly true and honest. Wilson presents his ideas through his characters’ dialogues.
In the hands of these talented actors, Wilson’s truths and messages ring loud and clear. Not one weakness comes to mind when watching this cast deliver the message of the 1960s. Watching this, audiences can see how far society has come and how very much further society needs to change to fulfill the American dreams.
Cast: Daniel Andre – Hambone, Dennis Jackson – Holloway, Desmond (3-3-7) Jones – West, Lewis Morrow – Wolf, SyKnese Fields – Risa, Theodore (Priest) Hughes – Memphis, Robert (Tre’) Coppage – Sterling.
Crew: Director – Melonnie Walker, Stage Manager – Lynn King, Assistant Stage Manager – Markeyta Young, Set Designer – Charles Moore, Costumer – Jabrelle Herbin, Dramaturg – Melonnie Walker, Sound Designer – Dennis Jackson.
All productions will be held at: Just Off Broadway Theatre, 3051 Central in Penn Valley Park,
Kansas City, MO,. 64108
Tickets: General admission – $25.00; Seniors (60+)/Students – $20.00; Community Nights – $15.00 (Wednesdays and Thursdays only); Group pricing available. A handling fee is applied to credit/debit card purchases.
Visit our website at www.kcmeltingpot.com or call 816-226-8087 for tickets and Covid guidelines..
Tags: Just Off Broadway Theatre, Kansas City Melting Pot Theatre, “Two Trains Running”, August Wilson, Kansas City Theatre, Kansas City Arts & Entertainment, Kansas City.