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'Two Trains Running' at Round House Theatre: A Flashback to Unsettled Times

Eve M. Ferguson | 4/23/2014, 3 p.m.
"Two Trains Running," playing at the Round House Theatre through May 4, is both a reminder of the issues for ...
Sterling (Ricardo Frederick Evans) and Wolf (KenYatta Rogers) in Round House Theatre's production of "Two Trains Running." Danisha Crosby

But the most compelling character, Hambone (Frank Britton), a mentally-challenged man whose mantra "I want my ham," serves as a reminder of the deprivation of rewards promised by the movement. In reality, Hambone's often violent outbursts stemmed from a job he did painting the fence of a white business owner, Lutz, who promised him a ham for the work. Having never delivered on the promise, Lutz instead offered him a chicken. As a result, Hambone has been reciting the same line for years and can't get any satisfaction or compensation. In one of the most powerful scenes of the play, Sterling gets Hambone to temporarily substitute the phrase "Black is beautiful," instead of his usual request.

"(Memphis) sees a bit of himself in Sterling and also in Hambone," Russell added. "Hambone wants his ham, and Memphis wants his justice. At first, Memphis thinks that's a foolish pursuit, never realizing that his pursuit mirrors that of Hambone. By the end of the play, he has fully realized the connection that he has with Hambone."

The entire play takes place against the backdrop of the funeral of Prophet Samuel, a local soothsayer whose burial is never seen, but referenced as the only thing happening in the area. West, the undertaker (Doug Brown) makes a brief appearance, representing the only successful businessman of the group.

Through the interplay of these characters, each one tells his story, most of them tragically linked.

August Wilson employed his "Century Cycle" of 10 plays, which includes "Gem of the Ocean," "Fences," "The Piano Lesson," and "Joe Turner's Come and Gone," to examine the lives of African-Americans throughout the 20th century. Both Russell and Rogers have had roles in several of those plays, and Russell noted the significance and interconnectedness behind the works.

"I've played Citizen Barlow in 'Gem of the Ocean,' but this is the largest role I've had in the August Wilson canon," he said. "All of the characters that August Wilson writes are transformative – they transform from the top of the show to the end. There's always that sense of community in all of August Wilson's pieces, but 'Two Trains Running' is the first time I've been able to play someone who is a well-established piece of that community."

Rogers stated similar views regarding Wilson's characters.

"With all of Wilson's work I start with people I've met in the community. It is important to say, 'I've met that guy' or even better 'I know that guy,'" Rogers said.

"Two Trains Running," directed for the Round House by Timothy Douglas, is an engaging glimpse into an era, enhanced by an authentic soundtrack of Sixties music. Although it runs on the long side, "Two Trains Running" makes for an entertaining evening of humor, remembrances, and a subtle reminder of the reality of urban gentrification in today's Northern cities.

The Round House Theatre is at 4545 East-West Highway, Bethesda, Md. Call (240) 644-1100 for tickets, or visit www.roundhousetheatre.org.