Two Trains Running at the Matrix Theatre - Theatre Review

Cast of Two Trains Running at the Matrix Theatre thru Mar 3
The cast of "Two Trains Running" at the Matrix Theatre:
Alex Morris, Montae Russell, Terrell Tilford, Nija Okoro, Ellis E. Williams, Dorian Missick and Adolphus Ward
Photo by Tiffany Judkins

By Kathy Flynn

August Wilson's Two Trains Running, set in 1969, is part of "American Century Cycle," Wilson's decade-by-decade chronicle of the African American experience in the 20th century.    

Under the adroit direction of Michele Shay, who herself was Tony-nominated for her performance in Wilson's Seven Guitars, Two Trains Running tackles race, relevancy, and self-worth in an exquisite dialogue-driven slice of life filed with lovely, nuanced performances from a flawless ensemble of skilled actors who will surely be remembered come award season.

Dorian Missick, Montae Russell, Nija Okoro Photo by Tiffany Judkins
Dorian Missick, Montae Russell, Nija Okoro
Photo by Tiffany Judkins

The setting is Memphis Lee's diner in Pittsburgh's Hill District, and the first thing you notice upon entering the Matrix Theatre is the diner set.  The set, which takes up the full width of the stage, is perfection, one of the most detailed and realistic sets I have seen in a small theater.   Scenic designer John Iacovelli, and the rest of the team, who were also behind last year's acclaimed production of Wilson's King Hedley II, have lavished this production with a loving eye and a level of detail rarely seen in the intimate theatre community.

The entirety of the play takes place in the diner, where, in a plot that is as relevant today as in 1969, Memphis (Montae Russell) is holding out for a fair price for his diner in the midst of neighborhood gentrification, where the specter of eminent domain hangs ominously over his head.

The story, set during the post-Malcolm X Civil Rights movement, is set in motion with the arrival of Sterling (Dorian Missick,) a volatile recent parolee looking for a new beginning.  He falls for Risa (Nija Okoro) the kind-hearted waitress who wears her scars like armor to protect her vulnerability, and almost immediately declares his intention to marry her.

Ellis E. Williams Photo by Tiffany Judkins
Ellis E. Williams
Photo by Tiffany Judkins

Other regulars at the diner are Wolf (played at the performance I attended by Jon Chaffin,) the smooth numbers runner, Holloway (Adolphus Ward,) the elderly neighborhood sage, and wealthy funeral home director West (Alex Morris,) owner of seven Cadillacs, who could very well be a stereotype of greed, but in this production is both well-rounded and sympathetic. And then there is the tragic Hambone (Ellis E. Williams in a heartbreaking performance) driven mad in a futile quest to get what he is owed. This is another character that could have easily been simplistic and stereotyped, but Williams fleshes him out with humanity and heart.

Two Trains Running is highly recommended, a truly remarkable production that should be seen by as many people as possible,

Two Trains Running runs Thurs.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2 p.m. through Mar. 3 at The Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave., West L.A..  For tickets, call  (855) 326-9945 or visit Running time: 160 minutes with one intermission .

Posted By Kathy Flynn on February 11, 2019 03:32 pm | Permalink