Thursday, June 6, 2013

REVIEW: OSF's "Two Trains Running"

"It’s 1969, and change is in the air. But for the owner of a threadbare diner in a dying Pittsburgh neighborhood, the civil rights movement may just be an impractical dream. Torn between whether to gamble on an urban-renewal buyout or sell his building to a predatory businessman, he finds himself caught between idealism and brutal reality.

August Wilson’s searing portrait of African-American life in the ’60s tells a complex story of the inner lives of ordinary people at an explosive turning point in American history."

Here I continue my review of shows at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Yesterday I saw "A Streetcar Named Desire," tomorrow I'll see "The Unfortunates," but, for now, here's my review of "Two Trains Running."

"Two Trains Running" is Right on Track

This is an exceptional production in every way. It constantly held my interest even though the run time is roughly three hours. Didn't seem like it. However, I did feel some of the pacing could have been picked up. The waitress (Bakesta King as Risa) slowly shuffles through her blocking--it was intentional and has some humor to it, but seems unnecessary; and with her pace picked up a good fifteen minutes could have been cut from the show. That is my only dis; and  I'm sure some would disagree, though others feel me.

Tyrone Wilson (Hambone), Bakesta King (Risa) and Terry Bellamy (Memphis) in
the Oregon Shakespeare Festival's "Two Trains Running." All photos provided.
I loved this show! The writing, by Wilson, is excellent and every line is meaningful. Every word seems ideal though sometimes the character of Memphis launches into a monologue that tells rather than shows. But the beauty of the play is in the dialogue and so much can be gleaned from this gem. Very rarely is this show crass and swear words are used sparingly, but the 'n' word is used freely and frequently. At times the show is sad, touching, and funny, but always eye-opening. Very satisfying.

The Cast:

King, Josiah Pillips (Holloway), Wilson and Kevin Kenerly (Sterling).
Terry Bellamy as Memphis, Kenajuan Bentley as Wolf, Bakesta King as Risa, Josiah Phillips as Holloway, Kevin Kenerly as Sterling, Jerome Preston Bates as West and Tyrone Wilson as Hambone.

All performed admirably--each bringing a unique character to life, under the direction of Lou Bellamy. A couple bordered on caricature, but never quite stereotypical.

Bentley brings a great deal of smooth to his role--the way he moves his body, his facial expression--but that smooth did not come through vocally. I loved the performance, but felt a tad more jive was in order. Bates stood out in his depiction of West--a fast talking, wheelin' dealin' undertaker. Of course, I couldn't help but fall in love with the bum Hambone, which of course is the point.

Risa (King) and Sterling (Kenerly) have their moment.
Wilson played him with panache. And while King seems bland and emo-tionless in act one, she brings the heart to act two. Don't mistake the act one perform-ance for a 'dial in'; it's part of the defensive persona. All were interesting to watch even when they weren't the center of attention--they never left character.

Of course, August Wilson's alpha male in this show is Memphis and Terry Bellamy ably carries the the show in the role. Perhaps his second act drunk performance is the best I have ever seen. Bellamy handles the emotional roller-coaster and stresses of the character with great aplomb.

The Creation:

Working man Memphis faces off with beggar man Hambone.
The set, as you can see from the photos and video, is marvelous. But the photos don't do it justice, you can't see the whole thing nor appreciate its dimension and depth. The attention to detail is exceptional. The sound design, as well, was a delight and a model to follow. The lighting design was perfect, dramatic and beautifully executed.

I highly recommend you see this! You need to see this. "Two Trains Running" has been running at OSF for a while and is winding down it's run and YOU are running out of time to see it. You have only until July 7. See the schedule and get ticket information here. It is worth the drive.

I want my ham! Doesn't everyone?

For more fascinating views of the set and behind the scenes videos click here.

By Gregory E. Zschomler
All photographs and video provided.
Read a review by Dennis Sparks here.

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