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Two Trains Running (August Wilson Century Cycle) [Hardcover]

August Wilson , Laurence Fishburne
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

6 Mar 2008 August Wilson Century Cycle
August Wilson surged to the forefront of American playwrights with the success of such critically acclaimed plays as Ma Rainey's Black Bottom and Joe Turner's Come and Gone, as well as his Pulitzer Prize winners Fences and The Piano Lesson. Now, with Two Trains Running, which Time magazine hailed as "his most mature work to date, " he offers another mesmerizing chapter in his remarkable cycle of plays about the black experience in twentieth-century America. It is Pittsburgh, 1969. The regulars of Memphis Lee's restaurant are struggling to cope with the turbulence of a world that is changing rapidly around them and fighting back when they can. As the play unfolds, Memphis's diner - and the rest of his block - is scheduled to be torn down, a casualty of the city's renovation project that is sweeping away the buildings of a community, but not its spirit. The rich undertaker across the street encourages Memphis to accept his offer to buy the place from him at a reduced price, but Memphis stands his ground, determined to make the city pay him what the property is worth, refusing to be swindled out of his land as he was years before in Mississippi. Into this fray come Sterling, the ex-con who embraces the tenets of Malcolm X; Wolf, the bookie who has learned to play by the white man's rules; Risa, a waitress of quiet dignity who has mutilated her legs to distance herself from men; and Holloway, the resident philosopher and fervent believer in the prophecies of a legendary 322-year-old woman down the street, a reminder of their struggle and heritage. And just as sure as an inexorable future looms right around the corner, these people of "loud voices and big hearts" continue to search, tofalter, to hope that they can catch the train that will make the difference. With compassion, humor, and a superb sense of place and time, Wilson paints a vivid portrait of everyday lives in the shadow of great events, and of unsung men and women who are anything but ordinary.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 99 pages
  • Publisher: Theatre Communications Group Inc.,U.S. (6 Mar 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1559363037
  • ISBN-13: 978-1559363037
  • Product Dimensions: 1.4 x 15 x 20.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,525,621 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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August Wilson is a major American playwright whose work has been consistently acclaimed as among the finest of the American theater. His first play, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, won the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award for best new play of 1984-85. His second play, Fences, won numerous awards for best play of the year, 1987, including the Tony Award, the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award, the Drama Desk Award, and the Pulitzer Prize. Joe Turner's Come and Gone, his third play, was also voted best play of 1987-88 by the New York Drama Critics' Circle. In 1990, Wilson was awarded his second Pulitzer Prize for The Piano Lesson. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
By A Customer
An excellent entry in Wilson's seven play cycle of drama depicting African-American history decade by decade. "Two Trains Running" which takes place in a rundown diner in late 1960's Pittsburgh, deals with the bold confrontation against racism. In the characters of Hambone and Memphis we see the war on discrimination waged on an everyday basis.
Read Wilson's masterpieces ("Fences" and "The Piano Lesson") first. You will then feel compelled to read them all.
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Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  14 reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars a thought provoking sketch but perhaps not really a play 1 Oct 2010
By Bachelier - Published on Amazon.com
AUGUST WILSON'S Two Trains Running is the third play in Wilson's decade-by-decade dramatic expression of the African-American experience. The setting is Pittsburgh, 1969 at a restaurant owned by central character Memphis. Others in his circle include restaurant waitress and cook Risa, passing regulars, and Sterling, a young man who has just been released from jail. The play's arc documents the interaction of these seven as they go about their business during a week.

What is so very interesting is that Wilson's drama is not that "dramatic" but rather "thematic." This is an ordinary week for the characters, yet it captures as a sequence of snapshots that point to deeper truths.

The theme best expressed by lead character Memphis: "If you drop the ball, you got to go back and pick it up."

For Memphis, he "dropped the ball" 40 years earlier when he was run off his rightful property in Mississippi by a group of white men. In a nod to Greek tragedy, Wilson places Memphis's chance at redemption of this injustice as mercurial as the gods: at the end of the play his chance to "pick it up" is simply by luck, rather than any effort on his part. The wheel of Fortuna is his only redemption: not his efforts against the unrighteous gods of his age.

The most arresting character is Hambone. He is instantly familiar to anyone who has ever worked with the homeless or unloved who wander the streets of any modern urban city. Hambone has been struggling to "pick up the ball" for nine years, for he was promised a ham in exchange for painting the fence of a white meat-shop owner. The mercurial and unjust butcher then substituted a chicken instead, but Hambone refused to accept it: holding to the honor of the verbal contract he had made with the butcher. But Hambone's righteous anger and efforts for justice have driven him insane. Every morning since the injustice he has appeared at the owner's doorstep to shout, "I want my ham. He gonna give me my ham." Hambone's mental condition has deteriorated so that his only utterance is "I want my ham. He gonna give me my ham." Such a limited line is a challenge for any actor, yet I would covet the role of Hambone, for this is the archetype of Man himself in contrast to the promises of the gods. Wilson has brilliantly constructed a character that exemplifies "Whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad."

The contrast between Memphis and Hambone provides a contra-narrative on irony to the theme. It states that a long, arduous struggle for one's rights will only result in mental deterioration, and perhaps what is best to do is to wait around until a fortuitous opportunity for justice presents itself. Appeal to the Fates by being patient? But Wilson is far too clever, for by such a simple surface expression he is subversively suggesting the opposite: you need effort and luck, but the experience itself is insane, and you can end up insane.

The character of Sterling is a civil rights activist, in contrast to the business owner Memphis. His attitude blends Malcolm X over MLK. But his character is under-developed (perhaps because Wilson correctly surmised that such a character's articulation is completely understood and it is unnecessary to say more, like Oscar Wilde's upper-class English toffs). Sterling shouts "Black is beautiful," and it is all we need to know.

Risa is the only female character, and she is in contrast to capitalist Memphis, mad Hambone, and activist Sterling, and a neutral character, but not merely chorus, for it is she that extends a tenderness to Hambone which he finally accepts. But the character is not a stock "magic negro" or "nurturing mother-goddess" but is undefined, and perhaps only on the verge of beginning to define herself. Risa's first attempts at self definition are violence against herself in self-mutilation. Her motivation is to deter unwanted male attention: her legs are badly scarred from self-inflicted knife wounds. A character remarks almost as trivia, "Who wants a woman who sliced up her legs? What'll she do to me?" Her efforts are sadly rewarded, because men avoid her. Yet in an attempt at tenderness she allows Sterling to win her affection with little effort. Perhaps this is Wilson's statement that at this time black females only had choices of lowered expectations and acceptance: defeat or self destruction were their only choices.

Holloway is the oldest regular of the restaurant, and a voice into the past and its wisdom. Holloway acts as a spiritual advisor; he recommends his friends take their problems to Aunt Esther, a 322-year-old spiritual healer, whom sadly is the "magic negro" stereotype. Holloway's monologues are the richest and diverse and perhaps is Wilson's own grandfather's voice bursting through.

This is not a classic, yet somehow this play's characters are extremely well chosen and speak to deeper truths than the simple story arc expresses. This play succeeds in that it makes you think.
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wilson's African-American History Lesson Continues 27 Jun 1999
By Peter Carrozzo - Published on Amazon.com
An excellent entry in Wilson's seven play cycle of drama depicting African-American history decade by decade. "Two Trains Running" which takes place in a rundown diner in late 1960's Pittsburgh, deals with the bold confrontation against racism. In the characters of Hambone and Memphis we see the war on discrimination waged on an everyday basis.
Read Wilson's masterpieces ("Fences" and "The Piano Lesson") first. You will then feel compelled to read them all.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "You the one God sent when he told me he couldn't send no angel." 25 Aug 2011
By doc peterson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
_Two Trains Running_ is the August Wilson "Century Series" play depicting the African-American experience in the 1960s. In a 1969 Pittsburgh diner, 6 men and a woman share vignettes about their lives and the "American Dream." Memphis, the owner of the diner, is about to have the city seize the restaurant under "immenent domain." Sterling, (who will play a significant role in Radio Golf) has just been released from prison and is enamored with the Black Power movement. West, the community's mortitian and Wolf, a number runner, are the wealthiest men in the Hill District. As these characters relate their lives, Wilson shows how the American Dream has been promised, and for so many, been denied.

Memphis is frustrated and angry: he was run off his farm in Mississippi (with an allusion to The Piano Lesson (The August Wilson Century Cycle)), and now faces being run off of his business in Pittsburgh. Hambone, a homless (and possibly mentally ill) customer has similarly been cheated. Reflecting on the American Dream, Halloway says, "People kill me talking about (African-Americans) is lazy. (African-Americans) is the most hardworking people in the world. Worked three hundered years for free. And didn't take no lunch hour. Now all of a sudden (African-Americans) is lazy. Don't know how to work. All of a sudden when they got to pay (African-Americans), ain't no work for him to do."

Wilson, however, asks us to consider whether the "American Dream" is merely about making money - both Wolf and West have made their money by exploiting and taking advantage of others, seeking to pull themselves up at the expense of their community. Sterling pays a visit to Mama Esther at 1839 Wylie (an allusion to Gem of the Ocean, where Mama Esther will "make you right") and is indeed made right, forgoing money in favor of love. This is reiterated by Holloway who tells the audience, "That's all you got. You got love and you got death. Death will find you ... it's up to you to find love. That's where most people fall down at. Death got room for everybody. Love pick and choose. ... most people won't admit that. ... Love got a price to it. Everybody don't want to pay. They put it on credit. Time it come due they got it on credit somewhere else."

I was profoundly moved by _Two Trains Running_ - a reference to the fact that in life, there are always choices, always two trains running in different directions. Wilson, as with his other plays, poses profound questions about who we are as a nation, about the African-American experience, and that experience in the broader context of being an American. Here, however, he asks us to reconsider what choices we've made and what our values as individuals are. As if his other work hadn't already made him an American classic, _Two Trains Running_ certainly would. As with his other work, if you have an opportunity to see it performed, do not miss it.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Two trains running ---- life and death! 31 Aug 2005
By ♣ RIZZO ♣ - Published on Amazon.com
August Wilson is a distinguished playwright who has won numerous awards. He has chronicled the African American experience that begins with the 20s through the 90s. Two of the plays, Fences and The Piano Lesson, both written in the mid 80s, have won the Pulitzer Prize.

Set in 1969, Two Trains Running takes place in a small diner in Pittsburgh. The diner regulars include Risa, a waitress who scarred her legs in an effort to keep men away, which eventually works; Sterling, an ex-prisoner who depends on luck to find work rather than the hard way; Hambone, a mentally challenged middle-age man who was cheated by the white man for work he had done. Still after 9 years, his only and constant words are "I want my ham." Wolf is a numbers runner who uses the diner for his business and Holloway has a strong belief in the supernatural. Also included are the funeral owner, West and diner owner, Memphis.

Urban renewal is a recurring theme in Wilson's work. Tearing down buildings has been an ongoing project and now the city has an offer for the diner owner, Memphis. He holds out for a respectable offer from the city. Memphis is logical with values but he doesn't have much faith for equality, freedom and justice or the black-is-beautiful concept.

The play opens with the restaurant regulars commenting on the townspeople lining up outside West's Funeral Home to see the dead Reverend turned Prophet Samuel. They believe some luck might pass on to them. Funeral home owner, West, is a regular at the diner and he and Prophet are looked upon as two who got rich cheating people.

The play doesn't have much in stage direction as it takes place at a diner counter. Little direction is needed. As for the vernacular, Wilson uses the language of the day, however, it would seem that the African Americans in this poor community did not enunciate as well as the words were written.

If you haven't read Wilson's work, start with Ma Rainey's Black Bottom Band and Joe Turner's Come and Gone. There is wonderful insight to memorable plays. These two are the beginning of the decades of African American experience. .....Rizzo
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "They got two trains running every day." p.31 18 Feb 2013
By Eddie Hutchinson - Published on Amazon.com
Two Trains Running by acclaimed playwright August Wilson is a play set in the Hill District of Pittsburgh in 1969. Two Trains Running is a journey through African-American culture; exploring matters such as money, death, self-image and justice. The setting is a restaurant owned by the main character, Memphis Lee, who besides being plagued by his own issues, engages daily with regular patrons: Sterling, Holloway, Wolf, West and Hambone. Risa, the restaurant cook and waitress, also plays significant role throughout the play. While each character manages his/her own personal turmoil, all lives intersect at a crucial moment providing an honest portrayal of life during this important time in African-American history.
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