It is a universally acknowledged truth that the Penumbra Theater has a love affair with America’s reigning neo-realist August Wilson.
Wilson, one of the nation’s most prominent African-American playwrights, had a close relationship with Penumbra during his life, producing 21 shows there. Two years after his death in 2005, Penumbra committed itself to producing all of Wilson’s plays in the coming years.
Two Trains Running is Wilson’s latest show in Penumbra’s series, and it marks a high point.
Set solely inside of a café in the late 1960s, its characters experience a world of turmoil and economic downturn (sound familiar?). As in many of Wilson’s plays, each character regularly featured in the café has a poignant story to tell, and they share them in turn in moving asides and soliloquies.
This show is all about silence and noise. Risa’s slingback heels slowly and methodically punctuate her moments on stage and indicate the monotony of her days; Sterling’s jangling change emphasizes exactly how much money he doesn’t have and how impatient he is to get some; Holloway’s rambling suddenly shortens when he has something very important to say.
Many of Penumbra’s regulars act in this show, and several repeats from last year’s production of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (James T. Alfred as Sterling, James Craven as Memphis, and Abdul Salaam El Razzac as Holloway are all memorable examples) return with equally solid work. Crystal Fox, returning as Risa, adds strength and grace to what all members of Memphis’ Café know is an inevitably dying business and way of life.
The look and tone of this show, thankfully lighter than most of Wilson’s, will still feel very familiar to audiences accustomed to Penumbra’s work. Like your grandpa’s cozy sweater, this is a show to snuggle up in and remind yourself why August Wilson is so wonderful.
Two Trains Running continues through Sunday, Oct. 30 at the Penumbra Theatre, 270 N. Kent St., St. Paul. Find more information about the show, and purchase tickets on their website here.