Reviewed by Joseph Michael Mishler
August Wilson’s classic drama Two Trains Running opened this weekend at Flint’s McCree Theatre. Unfortunately, the exceedingly cold weather wasn’t very kind to the McCree Theatre people with respect to audience attendance.
Two Trains Running deals with the struggles of blacks at the peak of the racial upheaval in the 1960’s and 70’s. The play, which centers on the reaction of African Americans as they come to understand the legal battles that have been fought and won, is filled with a sense of both hopelessness and optimism. Everyone has dreams as shown when the characters visit a “322” year old fortune teller who tells people to throw their money in the river to make sure what they want to happen, happens. Wilson, a double Pulitzer Prize winner whose work includes The Piano Lesson, was superb at portraying the political dilemma and influences of the time.
The play is performed in a diner. The city wants the diner and owner is holding out for what he thinks it is really worth. The regular customers include a bookie, a retired gentleman, a funeral director, and a disabled man. They are waited on by a cynical, yet flawed waitress. Outside there is chaos involving a tremendous funeral for a prophet, buildings being burned down, and rallies being held. As one of the characters says, “Freedom is heavy and you have to put your shoulder into it.”
The Saturday night performance was a little rough with several awkward moments. Part of one scene was repeated. A couple of actors had trouble with their lines and several cues were missed. Pacing was also an issue at times, but there was still a lot of energy in the play.
The diner was well done and well used by the actors. The costumes were appropriate and sometimes flashy. The music and speeches before the show and during scene changes added to the overall tension of the play. The lighting and sound were well done.
All of the characters were believable. Henry Bates (Holloway) did a good job of telling stories and trying to keep things moving. Dennis Sykes (Wolf) who plays a bookie was a sharp dresser and gave a good performance. Algie Jenkins (Risa) played the waitress, and she also gave a strong performance. She didn’t want to fall in love, but she did. Stuart Etzy (Sterling), portraying an ex-convict trying to make good, made us want to stand up and cheer for the underdog. While he didn’t find a job, he did find love.
John Vincent (Hambone) gave an excellent performance. His character had done a job for a butcher across the street that cheated him. He repeats the same line over and over – “He didn’t give me my ham! Give me my ham!” – always accompanied by a boxing gesture. Tezell Morris (West) did a fine job as the funeral director with a reputation that builds with each passing funeral. Clifford Sykes (Memphis) was okay as the diner owner, but seemed to struggle at times. The play was directed by Faye Turner Johnson
Performances for Two Trains Running are February 9-25, 2012. The New McCree Theatre is located at 5005 Cloverlawn, Flint MI, 48504. For reservations call 810-787-2200 or visit their website: www.thenewmccreetheatre.com