Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Stage

August Wilson play '2 Trains Running' opens at American Stage

By Colette Bancroft

Times Staff Writer

“This play is about who gets served," Bob Devin Jones says of 2 Trains Running.

That makes sense given the setting of the play: a cafe in Pittsburgh in 1969. It is the seventh work in esteemed playwright August Wilson's Century Cycle, which American Stage Theatre Company is presenting, one play each season, in its entirety. The 10 plays span the 20th century decade by decade, echoing the history of African-Americans in that 100 years, including the Great Migration and the civil rights movement. Wilson, who died in 2005, won Pulitzer Prizes for two of the plays (Fences in 1987 and The Piano Lesson in 1990), and 2 Trains Running was a Tony nominee and a finalist for the Pulitzer in 1992.

Jones, who is directing American Stage's production of 2 Trains Running, is not just talking about who gets a cup of coffee at the cafe. Among the play's subjects are justice and respect — in one way or another, all of its vivid characters are looking for those things.

One element in the plot is the incursion of so-called urban renewal on black communities, as the cafe's owner, Memphis, tries to negotiate with city government for a fair price for the business he has spent much of his life building. Most of the play's characters are regulars at the cafe, including Holloway, who is played by Alan Bomar Jones. "I see him as a representation of the community, because he's been there longest," he says of his character. "He brings knowledge and balance. You don't like or dislike Holloway, you listen to Holloway."

Alan Bomar Jones has appeared in six of the Century Cycle plays that American Stage has presented, and some actors have appeared in all seven. That has given the ensemble an unusual degree of rapport, he says. "There's kinship, there's competition, there's respect."

There's also singing, dancing and laughter. "During breaks, these actors aren't going off to their trailer or dressing room," Bob Devin Jones says. "They're jiving and shucking and playing the dozens. If you can get half a cup of that on stage, you've got something."

Renata Eastlick is a newcomer to the group. She will play Risa, the only female character in 2 Trains Running, who works for Memphis, waiting tables and cooking — and fending off the attention of some of her customers.

Wilson's description of Risa notes that her legs are badly scarred. "She cuts her legs," Eastlick says. "It's her saying, 'I'm tired of this, of being gawked at.' She's a beautiful woman, but she wants to be respected as a person first."

Alan Bomar Jones salutes American Stage for committing to producing all of the Century Cycle. "I wish theaters would use this as a blueprint. Not just August Wilson's plays; say, maybe, we'll do a Tennessee Williams play every year. The audience really gets educated about a playwright."

Eastlick notes that Wilson's plays "give minority actors such a great opportunity over 10 years."

Alan Bomar Jones agrees. "If you present us on your stage, we will support you."

Colette Bancroft can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8435.

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