New Jersey Stage
New Jersey Stage on social media


For great Jersey music and much more, tune into our radio station at AsburyMusic.com

"Two Trains Running" at Two River Theatre

By Gary Wien


(RED BANK, NJ) -- I can still remember a conversation I had once with an African-American playwright from Asbury Park. We were talking about influences and I mentioned August Wilson's name. He hadn't heard of Wilson yet. I said, he's a brilliant playwright who penned a 10-play series on the African American experience in America. The guy said, "Why does every white playwright think they can just write about our experiences?" I replied, "He's not another white playwright..."

It's sad that August Wilson isn't as well known throughout the country as say Arthur Miller or Shakespeare, but that appears to be the case. I waited a long time for local theatre groups to perform his work and am elated at the relationship Two River Theatre has with the fantastic director Ruben Santiago-Hudson (who directed last year's "Jitney" at Two River) and an acting troupe who regularly performs Wilson's work in New York City. In fact, Ruben and several of the actors in "Two Trains Running" (currently playing at Two River Theatre in Red Bank) came directly from "The Piano Lesson" at the Signature Theatre in New York to this production. I think Wilson's work demands a certain level of experience that both the director and this fine cast have.

For anyone that doesn't know, August Wilson had just about as much critical success from his 10-play cycle as anyone could imagine. All total, the cycle earned him two Pulitzer Prizes (for "Fences" and "The Piano Lesson"), a Tony Award for "Fences", seven New York Drama Critics' Circle Awards for best play, and received Tony Award nominations for all but one play. "Two Trains Running" was itself a finalist for the Pulitzer and garnered Wilson one of his many Tony Award nominations.

As with most of his plays, "Two Trains Running" is set in Pittsburgh. This time, we're in Memphis Lee's restaurant, which is across the street from West's Funeral Home and Lutz's Meat Market. The placement is part of the grand plan of the play. As the City takes over buildings via eminent domain, all the people basically have to look forward to is their ending at West's. In fact, as with most dying cities, the funeral home is the only business thriving in town.

One regular to the restaurant named Hambone looks forward to his ham from Lutz's -- payment for painting his fence many years ago. Each day he screams out "you're gonna give me my ham" and "I want my ham" to Lutz. Played by Anthony Chisholm, Hambone is really the central character in the play and Chisholm plays him perfectly. I would be amazed if people didn't leave the theatre muttering "I want my ham!" to themselves.

As the story goes, Hambone took on the job to paint Lutz's fence. Lutz told him he'd give him a chicken for the job, but if he did a really good job he'd get a ham. Knowing that he did a fine job, Lutz kept holding out for his ham - day in and day out. As one person put it, Hambone knows more about life than most. If he agreed to the chicken, it wouldn't taste as good as the ham he wanted and he'd be depressed. It would also ruin the taste of chicken for him forever. So, day in and day out, he pressed Lutz for his ham. It wasn't pride, it was the hope that an honest day's work would earn an honest wage.


Memphis, the restaurant's owner, is holding out for a higher price than the City has offered him for his property. Like Hambone, Memphis refuses to settle. The idea of not settling seems to be something August Wilson is stressing here. Rules are always changing for these characters, so the townspeople hold their hopes and dreams with local Prophet Samuel and Aunt Esther (the long-running character in this series who is about 340 years old at this time). Both are guiding forces in the community. When the local residents feel they can't control their own destinies, they put their faith into these two.

This is truly one of Wilson's finest works. As with jazz music, there are periods when nothing much seem to be going on and then suddenly everything makes sense and you realize how brilliant the last few minutes really were. Ruben's direction is spot on with the way they play flows so well. "Two Trains Running" tells a lot about the human condition - how we live and love and try to survive. It's remarkable in its simplicity and its complex design at the same time. You've got to see it to understand what I mean there...

Two River has assembled a truly wonderful cast for this production. The play stars Chuck Cooper as Memphis, John Earl Jelks as Wolf, Roslyn Ruff as Risa, James A. Williams as Holloway, Owiso Odera as Sterling, Harvy Blanks as West, and the aforementioned Anthony Chisholm as Hambone.

The set is among the finest designs I have ever seen anywhere. Michael Carnahan, who was the scenic designer for "The Piano Lesson" at Signature Theatre, was another one of that shows transplants here. He created a restaurant/building that is utterly perfect. I loved how the building, which has a few apartments above the restaurant, even contained an air conditioning sticking out. It's little touches like that which transform the set into its own world.

"Two Trains Running" is playing now until March 3rd at Two River Theater, 21 Bridge Avenue in Red Bank, NJ. And, if we're lucky, the relationship between August Wilson's work, Director Ruben Santiago-Hudson, and Two River will continue on. After all, there are eight more plays to go!


Photos by Michal Daniel



For more by this author, click here






Circle Players Presents "After The Revolution"
(PISCATAWAY, NJ) -- Circle Players presents After the Revolution by Amy Herzog, weekends from February 1st to February 17th. The production is directed by Alicia Harabin. In the play, Emma Joseph is a bright, hard-working, law school graduate continuing her family’s business of fighting for progressive ideals. 
Black Box PAC Presents "Significant Other"
(TEANECK, NJ) -- Black Box PAC's first main stage show of 2019 is Significant Other by Joshua Harmon. BBPAC is no stranger to Harmon’s work, as one of the first hits at the Black Box Performing Arts Center was Harmon’s hit Bad Jews. Significant Other follows the perpetually single Jordan Berman and his trio of girl friends as they navigate dating, relationships, and supporting those you love. Performances run from January 24 to February 10th.
The Theater Project Presents 5th Annual One-Act Play Competition
(MAPLEWOOD, NJ) -- Which play will be voted Audience Favorite – the romance, the thriller, or the comedy?  And which author will take the $500 Judge’s Award?
Dreamcatcher Presents World Premiere of "Psychodrama"
(SUMMIT, NJ) -- Dreamcatcher Repertory Theatre will present the World Premiere of Psychodrama by Montclair playwright Phoebe Farber. This seriocomedy unfolds in a divorce support group where a new leader introduces unorthodox methods that just might work. Psychodrama runs February 14-March 3.
Centenary Stage Presents Henrik Ibsen's "Enemy Of The People"
(HACKETTSTOWN, NJ) -- Randall Duk Kim and Anne Occhiogrosso headline Centenary Stage Company’s production of Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People, February 15 through March 3 in the Sitnik Theatre of the Lackland Performing Arts Center, Hackettstown, New Jersey. Adapted by John Alan Wyatt and directed by Anne Occhiogrosso, the production will feature Randall Duk Kim as Doctor Thomas Stockmann supported by an acting company of professional and local talent from the tri-state area and Centenary University. The full-scale production marks the culmination of the 2018 Gates Ferry Lecture Series: “What is Truth?”


Emmy-Winning South Oranger, Andre Braugher
​​​​​​​“I’m Andre Braugher and I’m here at the South Orange Performing Arts Center, SOPAC, rehearsing a new play by Julia Doolittle called ‘Tell Them I’m Still Young.’”
Laiona Michelle Talks About "Little Girl Blue: The Nina Simone Musical"
This might be the right time for Nina Simone—15 years after her death. That’s what Laiona Michelle thinks, and, in a way, Michelle will be testing that idea by bringing the singer-activist to life in a world-premiere musical show at George Street Playhouse. Michelle wrote the show—“Little Girl Blue: The Nina Simone Musical”—and she will appear in the title role at the New Brunswick theater from January 29 through February 24.
It's "Apple Season" at NJ Rep
Every family has stories. Some are funny. Some are sweet. Some are sad. And some are never shared. Those are often the most powerful.
Rise of the Goatman
Theater For The New City presents Beltsville/Rockville, Part 1: Rise of the Goatman, an original play by Englewood resident Matt Okin (Artistic Director of Black Box Studios), from December 27 through January 13. In this pseudo-Southern Gothic dark comedy, a vibrant group of teens from two very different suburban neighborhoods clash over class differences, drugs, and sex - and the existence of the legendary ‘Goatman’ in 1986. Cut to 2013, and the adolescent kids of those very same teens are struggling to make sense of their family histories - and the same “mythological” creature - that could be holding them back in life.
PHOTOS from "The Winter's Tale" at Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey
(MADISON, NJ) -- The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey’s concludes its 56th season with its sixth and final Main Stage production, The Winter's Tale. Last seen at The Shakespeare Theatre in 2008, Artistic Director Bonnie J. Monte directs this production of Shakespeare’s tragicomedic romance. Veteran company members Jacqueline Antaramian, Jon Barker, Erin Partin, John Keabler, Raphael Nash Thompson,Seamus Mulcahy, Patrick Toon, and Ames Adamson are among a cast of 20 actors. Performances run now through December 30. 






Event calendar
Tuesday, Jan 22, 2019

Sorry, no events listed for today.
Here are some upcoming events.


2019-01-23
Rechnitz Halls DiMattio Gallery, Monmouth University @ 10:00am
West Long Branch

2019-01-23
Pollak Theatre @ Monmouth University @ 7:30pm
West Long Branch

2019-01-24
New Jersey Repertory Company @ 8:00pm
Long Branch






















New Jersey Stage © 2019 by Wine Time Media, LLC | PO Box 140, Spring Lake, NJ 07762 (732) 280-7625 | info@newjerseystage.com

Images used on this site have been sent to us from publicists, artists, and PR firms.
If there is a problem with the rights to any image, please contact us and we will look into the matter.