Friday, June 7, 2013

Two Trains Running—Oregon Shakespeare Festival—Ashland, OR

Everyone Has A Story
 
This famous, August Wilson drama is directed by Lou Bellamy and playing at OSF,
Bowmer Theatre  through July 7th.  For further information, contact their site at www.osfashland.org or call 541-482-4331.

The period is the late 60’s in the infamous Hill District of Pittsburg, PA.  It is, for seven individuals, at least, an insulated, safe haven from the terrors of the world.  Here, in Memphis’s restaurant, they can seek sanctuary for awhile and have an outlet for their stories (and everybody has a story).  The play is not just one story but seven, all connected by poverty, seeking justice and trying to carve out their own niche in the world.  And each should have their own Handle, like an Action Hero in their own story.  And each has their own walk/dance, as well as song, in expressing themselves.

There is Memphis (Terry Bellamy), the restaurant’s owner, A Black Avenger, in danger of losing his establishment in the name of progress, white man’s progress.  He learned, early on, the ways to succeed in the white world.  He inherits the mantle of his ole mule who was murdered by just such folks.  And now, like a mule, he is just as stubborn, holding out for his price for the world he laid here.  Bombastic, charges about the place.

Risa (Bakesta King), The Shadow, is his only employee and moves about the place at her own pace, which is one step slower than slow.  She voluntarily removed herself from contention and consideration as an object of romance, by becoming as distant as possible, even scarring her legs so men wouldn’t be looking at them.  She floats like a ghost through the real world.  Deathly slow of pace with minimal words.

Holloway (Josiah Phillips), The Philosopher, who sits and observes those passing by, giving out advice as needed, absorbing their stories but not judging.  He is likable, non-committal and has his own perch and ritual like everyone else.  His years alone give him the street smarts he needs to survive.  Soft-spoken with a rambling gait.

Wolf (Kenajuan Bentley), The Hustler, playing the numbers, always looking for an easy and fast buck.  Women drip off him like warm butter, or so he says.  A self-made man who shows no mercy for the pigeons he plucks.  Sneaky movements guised with boastful tones.

West (Jerome Preston Bates), an undertaker, The Vulture, a very rich man in that he will always have customers.  He fleeces as much as he can from the living, so that their loved ones will have comfort underground.  “Death got room for everyone.  Love picks and chooses.”  He is a kissing cousin to Wolf.  Fast-talking and deliberate pacing.

Sterling (Kevin Kenerly), The Revolutionary, a newcomer to this motley crew, who will shake things up for them all.  He is broke and just out of prison but he represents the new order for the Afro-American race.  Walks and talks like he’s got a rocket in his pocket. 

Hambone (Tyrone Wilson), Everyman, is a transient, a man set in his ways but has a dream just out of reach, a ham, and he relentlessly pursues that vision.  He will not take chicken, nor stop short of his ultimate goal, to get what is due him.  And, in a strange way, he does, giving us direction as to never give up, nor compromise.  Loud with shuffling steps.

And there is the unseen Oracle, Aunt Ester, the wise lady who may have lived more than 300 years.  She dispenses what is needed to all souls who ask for help.  All requests are answered but only if you throw $20 into the river.  She is of this world and yet not.  She is the jewel in a wounded land.  A survivor for all times.

Dreams and Reality can be different sides of the same coin.  The trick may be to know which is which.  Another question proposed might be, how far Down must you go before Up is an option.  Revenge…Retribution…Redemption—all key ingredients to this savory stew.

I choose not to give away their stories, as they are so unique and beautifully delivered by each and every one of the cast, that they must be heard to be appreciated.  The cast is first-rate and Mr. Bellamy has a keen grasp of the play and has chosen his cast wisely.  Every cast member is a stand-out, making this one of the strongest ensemble casts I’ve ever seen.

And the set and props (Vicki Smith) are equally impressive, giving the flavor to the audience of being in the action.  An impressive production by an impressive theatre.  I recommend this show.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.  And, for another perspective, go to Greg’s blog site:  http://www.swwastar.blogspot.com/2013/06/review-osfs-two-trains-running.html