In August Wilson’s “Two Trains Running,” a diner serving coffee, chicken, beans and pie serves as home to characters from the ‘hood who meet to swap dreams and frustrations and give each other a primal kind of love.
The show is one of Wilson’s 10-play cycle that documents a Black neighborhood in mid-20th century Pittsburgh undergoing urban renewal. (“Fences” and “The Piano Lesson” both won the Pulitzer Prize.) “Two Trains,” first staged in 1992, is the seventh of the plays.
Wilson’s writing is rhythmic and bigger than life, and the top-flight cast in Marin Theatre Company’s production delivers powerfully. Lamont Thompson in the role of diner owner Memphis dreams big, asking the city for more money than can be expected for his doomed property, which is due for the wrecking ball. Underneath the brash and upbeat humor of his many-faceted presentation is real rage.
Holloway (Michael J. Asberry), always seated at the chess board, is the diner philosopher who has a lot to say about each of the others. Memphis makes the occasional chess move while listening carefully to what he has to say.
Kenny Scott’s light-footed and capricious Wolf runs the numbers and brags about his imagined female conquests, and Michael Wayne Rice’s Hambone, a street wanderer seeking to claim a promised ham from a neighboring store, is tough love by the other regulars.
There is a romance: Sterling (Eddie Ewell) is just out of prison with plans to make good while wooing waitress Risa with a lovely, light tenor, and finally a dance that clinches the deal. Sam Jackson’s Risa is the most provocative, sashaying diner help imaginable. The only well-off character in the play is West (Khary L. Moye), who is at the top of his game because he runs the funeral home in the neighborhood, and crime is at an all-time high.
Stephen Jones’ down-home set expresses a lot with a little: a chalkboard that announces the daily menu, a phone that rings for Wolf, a 1950s counter with a never-failing coffeepot, a door to the outside that offers explicit hints of the seasons. Alice Ruiz’s costumes are classy if well-worn.
The through themes in the play are small ones: Memphis’ struggle with the city, Sterling and Risa’s growing love, and Hambone’s quest — and they’ve all heard all the stories over hundreds of cups of coffee. Wilson is a master of emotions and unflagging humor, and under Dawn Monique Williams’ deft direction, this is an evening of stunning theater.
“Two Trains Running” continues through Dec. 18 at Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley. Tickets are $25-$65 at marintheatre.org or 415-388-5208.