The reviews are in for Penumbra Theatre’s ‘Two Trains Running’

Focusing on what you do best is smart business.

In the case of Penumbra Theatre that means staging the work of August Wilson.

Wilson spent twelve years living and writing in St. Paul, and Artistic Director Lou Bellamy premiered some of his plays. After Wilson’s death in 2005, Penumbra Theatre committed to staging all ten of Wilson’s play cycle documenting African-American life in the 20th century.

Right now they’re showing “Two Trains Running,” set in 1969. Bellamy has directed the show multiple times, including on the Penumbra stage in 1994 and 2003. That experience has paid off, because the show is garnering rave reviews left and right. Check out the excerpts below; click on the links to read the reviews in their entirety.

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Crystal Fox as Risa in “Two Trains Running” at Penumbra Theatre Company

Photo by Ann Marsden

From Ellen Burkhardt at Minnesota Monthly:

Like all of Wilson’s plays, Two Trains Running defines a decade through carefully crafted and powerfully individualistic characters. Set in Pittsburg, the story revolves around Memphis, played by a dynamic and calculated James Cravin, a restaurant owner fighting to get a fair price for his building from the city. But the diner isn’t just a building, and Memphis isn’t just fighting for money. This is a battle to protect the one place a group of weary characters can come day after day to shield themselves from the harsh realities and bitter truths of the outside world. This is a battle for equality and Civil Rights.

…Lou Bellamy’s artful, insightful direction; the gorgeous, true-to-date set design by Vicki Smith; and the intensely passionate acting immortalize the message of Two Trains Running, plucking it from 1969 and transplanting it into today: It’s never too late to fight for what is right, and it’s never too late to make a change.

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Ahanti Young as the mentally disturbed Hambone in August Wilson’s “Two Trains Running”

Photo by Ann Marsden

From Ed Huyck at City Pages:

This is why I go to the theater…terrific material, excellent directing and vision, and some of the best acting you’ll find on a Twin Cities stage. What else can you ask for?

From Rohan Preston at the Star Tribune:

Lou Bellamy’s staging of this August Wilson drama, with a superb acting ensemble, is transporting…Wilson wrote his dramas like jazz pieces, with characters supporting each other and taking turns to solo. The people in “Two Trains,” and the actors who portray them, all have their moments in the spotlight.

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James Craven as Memphis and Abdul Salaam El Razzac as Holloway in Penumbra Theatre’s production of “Two Trains Running”

Photo by Ann Marsden

From Christina Ham at HowWasTheShow.com:

Deftly staged by Penumbra Theatre founder and Artistic Director Lou Bellamy with a tightly cohesive, notably affective cast, and a pitch-perfect physical production to match, Two Trains Running represents part of Penumbra Theatre’s commitment to stage all ten of Mr. Wilson’s plays from his 20th Century Cycle. This play soars on the savory talk that has become Mr. Wilson’s signature. The magnificent storytelling not only paints a colorful portrait, but provides an in-depth study of a world veiled to those outside of it.

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“Two Trains Running” at Penumbra Theatre

Photo by Ann Marsden

From Dominic P. Papatola at the Pioneer Press:

It would be easy to praise individual performances. Craven. who has appeared in all three Penumbra productions of “Trains.” plays the frustrated Memphis closer to the breaking point of violence or madness than some of his predecessors. Razzac’s Holloway unwinds seemingly tangential stories with captivating ease and ties them tightly into the narrative. Fox, her low heels forever clacking gratingly across Vicki Smith’s set, is so numb and insulated as Risa that she might be the walking dead; making her eventual warming near the end of the play that much more aching. Heartbreaking, too, is the word for Alfred’s smooth-talking Sterling – who, for all his talk, is Hamlet-like in his inaction until the final line of the play.

But the beauty of Penumbra’s production lies not in the bricks of these characters, but in the mortar that joins them. Working from a foundation of familiarity, the director and cast build not just a structure, but a monument to these characters, their hopes and their travails.

Have you seen Penumbra Theatre’s “Two Trains Running?” If so, what did you think? Share your review in the comments section.

Two Trains Running runs through October 30.

  • Nancy Newman

    Am I the only one (actually, I know I’m not because of comments I’ve heard from other play-goers) who can’t understand James Craven’s rapid-fire, word-swallowing speech? I am both elderly and white, which may partly explain why I know I missed 75% of the words that came out of his mouth, especially when he was shouting, which was often. He’s a marvelous actor, and I feel gypped of understanding.