August Wilson’s drama, “Two Trains Running,” is about life and death.
Set in the Hill District, an African-American neighborhood in Pittsburgh, the action takes place in 1969, when the area is undergoing gentrification.
UpStage Theatre brings the production to the stage Friday through Sunday.
West, the local mortician, is trying to buy land cheap in the neighborhood for possible resale at a higher price. But restaurant owner Memphis won’t sell for anything less than $25,000.
“Memphis bought the land for $5,000, and West figures that he’s offering $10,000 more than Memphis paid for it,” says Claude Sterling, who plays West. “The people of the neighborhood know West is trying to scam them, but they’re also nice to him, because they know he’s the man who’s going to be there to comfort them when they start crying at a funeral.”
Johnnie Domino tackles the role of Sterling, who has just been released from prison and is rallying for racial justice. His tough demeanor belies a compassionate side, which is seen when he comforts Hambone.
“Hambone is a mentally challenged man in the neighborhood,” say director Byron Wade. “He was promised a ham by the butcher, Wolf, if he painted a fence. But when he was done, Wolf gave him a chicken instead of a ham, so he still wants his ham, and that’s what he says throughout the play.”
Like Memphis, Hambone is taking a stand.
“Hambone won’t back down until he gets his ham, and Memphis won’t sell until he gets the price he wants,” Wade says.
But a sudden death interrupts things, changing everyone’s perspective. This isn’t about money; it’s about life.
“One train is running toward death, and the other train is running toward life,” Wade says.
Wilson forces his characters to look within themselves to realize who they are and what they want out of life.
Memphis would like to keep his restaurant but realizes this may not be possible. But should he sell for a lower price than he thinks it’s worth?
“If I tell, I would ruin the ending,” Wade says. “You’ll have to come to the play to see what happens.”
It will also be a chance to see Wade, who is directing for the first time, in a new light.
The drama teacher at Park Forest Middle School has acted in many of UpStage’s productions.
Follow Robin Miller on Twitter at @rmillerbr.