The Black Rep brings August Wilson to the Edison
On Jan. 8, The Black Rep opened the second show of its 43rd season, “Two Trains Running” by August Wilson. “Two Trains Running” is the sixth play in what theatrical historians call Wilson’s 10-part American Century Cycle. Each play in this cycle is set in a different decade of the 20th century and aims to outline the Black experience via the power of theatre as a vehicle of bringing people together. The Cycle both educates audiences and helps create an understanding of the nuances of Black lives through art in a way that has stood the test of time. The American Century Cycle has also been called the Pittsburgh Cycle, after the location of nine of the Cycle’s plays—the other takes place in Chicago.
The entirety of “Two Trains Running” takes place in a diner in Pittsburgh’s The Hill district in 1969, which is frequented by a host of characters and personalities. The diner is the place to be for these characters and is the center of their world. Memphis, the owner, spends the play wondering whether he should let the city take his diner from him for less than he knows it’s worth or sell it to local businessman West. Holliway—played by Professor Ron Himes, founder and artistic director of The Black Rep—provides much of the comedy with his witty remarks and musings on life during the civil rights movement and spends much of his time riffing with Memphis. Risa, Sterling, Hambone and Wolf also participate in this world of gossip, flirtation and gambling. Risa is looking for love, Sterling a purpose, Hambone “want[s] [his] ham” and Wolf just wants to take the numbers.
Exploring historical occurrences like the mass exodus of Black people from the South to the North, the Black Power movement and the lives of Black women in the 1960s, “Two Trains Running” is a masterpiece. It takes a snapshot of history via the lives of ordinary people and transports audiences to that time; The Black Rep’s production does just that from the moment you walk in the theater. As you walk down the aisle to find your seat, the grand drape isn’t in, but out, showing Memphis’s diner front and center—the only thing on stage. The Black Rep takes this piece of history and drops it onto the Edison stage with a raw and gripping yet comedic delivery. I recommend all of The Black Rep’s shows every time I write a review, and I highly recommend this installment of the American Century Cycle.
For students currently enrolled in a Performing Arts Department (PAD) class or declared PAD majors and minors, free tickets are available through the PAD office. The show is three hours, with a 20-minute intermission. “Two Trains Running” will be at the Edison Theatre for its remaining performances: Thursday, Jan. 23 at 7 p.m., Friday, Jan. 24 and Saturday, Jan. 25 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Jan. 26 at 2 p.m.