WESTON — The “Cheers” TV theme song, “Where Everybody Knows Your Name,” might well apply to “Two Trains Running,” the seventh of August Wilson’s 10-play “Pittsburgh Cycle.” But the comic moments, backed by deeply drawn characters, are both darkened and heightened by the urban racism of 1969.
Weston Playhouse opened a production of “Two Trains Running” Friday at its new intimate theater, Weston Playhouse at Walker Farm, that was at once entertaining and unsettling. Excellent ensemble work made for a truly compelling experience.
Set in an African-American neighborhood diner about to be demolished in the name of urban renewal, the locals face everyday challenges as well as those enhanced by the racism of the time. The lives and stories of these “real characters” weave a rich tapestry portraying life at the time. The extravagance with which they are drawn serves to underscore the situation and provides much of the humor.
Memphis, an earthy and passionate Raphael Peacock, is the owner, determined to get the $25,000 he believes he deserves for a building that he paid $5,500 for. His reasons have more to do with the price of selling his identity than financial gain.
Risa, an irresistibly dimensional and nuanced Eboni Flowers, is the only employee, both cook and waitress. The young woman’s wiseacre attitude masks a hurt that made her choose religion over men. Will the determination of the brash young newcomer just out of the penitentiary, Sterling, played by an authentically overenthusiastic Bernard Gilbert, be able to crack her wall?
Wolf, a witty and feisty Cary Hite, runs the numbers and nearly gets into a deadly altercation with Sterling, but has the most entertaining relations with women. The recent retiree Holloway, an unusually nuanced Guiesseppe Jones, proves to be the truly down-to-earth habitué of the diner, except when he’s talking about his life-saving experience with a psychic.
West, Lawrence Evans with real presence, was the funeral director who despite being the only wealthy diner regular, shares a difficult past with the rest. Representing damaged innocence is Hambone, a sympathetic Beethovan Odan, who isn’t able to get beyond a couple of endlessly repeated phrases. Unseen is a woman, claimed by Holloway to be 322 years old, who has an uncanny effect on all of the characters.
More than just creating the plot, the characters’ stories define them. In the Weston production, directed by Reginald L. Douglas, the portrayals come to life in a way that is intimate and makes them easy to care about. Without ever becoming sentimental, this a love story about everyday people, their struggles and the humor of their foibles.
The physical production benefited from Alexander Woodward’s wonderfully tacky ‘60s diner interior, ideal for the intimate Walker theater, effectively lit by Amith Chandrashaker, with authentic costuming by Sarita Fellows. Sinan Refik Zafar’s brash sound design too felt appropriate.
Weston Playhouse’s “Two Trains Running” combines an unvarnished look at difficult times with a humanity that is touching and entertaining.