My first introduction to August Wilson’s work was his play Fences on Broadway with Denzel Washington, the garbage man. Fences was set in the 50’s. A prolific playwright August Wilson wrote a series of 10 plays, all but one taking place in his home city of Pittsburgh before he died at the age of 60 from colon cancer. Although it wasn’t intentional at first, he found himself setting each play in a different decade. After realizing what he was doing, it seemed natural to fill in sequential decades.
Born in ’46 his background fascinated me with an absent, alcoholic German father who gave him the name Frederick (Freddie) August Kittel and a strong African American mother, Daisy Wilson who raised 6 children.
‘Freddie’ dropped out of high school in tenth grade, began using his middle name, August as his first name and his Mom’s surname of Wilson. He self educated himself in the Carnegie Library and spent his nickels on Blues records. He was an observer of life on the Hill around him and based his play’s characters on people in their daily lives whether it would be at home, going to/at work, at play and payed special attention to the elders in the black community. He stated :“Before I am anything, a man or a playwright, I am an African American. The tributary streams of culture, history and experience have provided me with the materials out of which I make my art.”
Saturday we were in Milwaukee to see the Rep’s powerful Two Trains Running by August Wilson which took place in 1969 after the death of Malcolm X amidst the unrest of the Civil Rights years. Natureman and I discussed the possible symbolism of the title since no script line ever contained Two Trains Running and we assumed it was the Civil Rights happening in the streets and the individual’s struggles amidst gentrification. Each actor was strong and through Wilson’s words converted us from observers in the audience to patrons in the story’s setting of the neighborhood diner and its demise. We too became regulars in the Pittsburg diner along with the cast of the diner’s owner, waitress, bookie, recently released parolee, successful businessman and philosopher and the unseen mystic Aunt Esther.
As in all of August Wilson’s plays the truth was heavy and emotional. Wilson wrote ““I wanted to place this culture on stage in all its richness and fullness and to demonstrate its ability to sustain us in all areas of human life and endeavor and through profound movements of our history in which the larger society has thought less of us than we have thought of ourselves.” (New York Times 2000) This he accomplished.
Although a long play with the first and second acts both being an 1 1/2 hr long with a 20 min intermission to stretch one’s legs, we as an audience were absorbed. The all Black cast delivered their lines with rhythm and cadence. Period music was woven throughout the scenes with familiar and popular 60’s soul and blues tunes.
Two Trains Running is riveting with topics that are just as relevant today of gentrification and racism. If you have the chance you too should go see it.
There was a pre play discussion re: Wilson and his life’s works with questions. One audience member asked the cast member since he was a Milwaukeean and grew up in the area how it was growing up Black. Seriously what would he respond since Milwaukee is still one of the most segregated cities in the Midwest. His response was it was ‘difficult.’ These racial struggles continue today.
Here’s a sampling of online clip of the play:https://video.search.yahoo.com/yhs/search?fr=yhs-sz-001&hsimp=yhs-001&hspart=sz&p=Milwaukee+Rep%27s+two+trains+running#id=3&vid=42ad3a5108088d20f85bd71ae50df146&action=click