On Sunday, March 3, 2013, I took the NJ Transit train to Red Bank, NJ, with an all-access pass to document the closing night performance of August Wilson’s Two Trains Running, directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson at Two River Theater Company in the Joan and Robert Rechnitz Theater.
Thanks to the Two Trains Running cast of seasoned award-winning August Wilson vets – John Earl Jelks, Harvy Blanks, Anthony Chisholm, Chuck Cooper, Owiso Odera, Rosalyn Ruff,James A. Williams, and director Ruben Santiago-Hudson – who welcomed me with open arms.
Part of Wilson’s 10-play cycle about the African-American experience in the 20th century, Two Trains Running is set against the backdrop of social change and political upheaval in the 1960s. It is the seventh in Wilson’s 10-play Pittsburgh Cycle chronicling the lives of African-Americans in each decade of the 20th century.
The creative team includes composer Bill Sims Jr., scenic design by Michael Carnahan; costume design by Karen Perry; lighting design by Xavier Pierce; and sound design by Robert Kaplowitz.
Last season, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, a Tony Award-winning actor, director, and writer, directed Wilson’s Jitney to critical acclaim and an extended run at Two River. Santiago-Hudson recently directed the Off-Broadway revivals of Athol Fugard’s My Children!, My Africa! and August Wilson’s The Piano Lesson at Signature Theatre Company. He made his directorial debut with Gem of the Ocean (McCarter Theatre and American Conservatory Theater). His directing credits include Things of Dry Hours (New York Theatre Workshop), Radio Golf (Kennedy Center), Seven Guitars and The First Breeze of Summer (for Signature Theatre Company, where he was an Associate Artist 2008-2009). Santiago-Hudson made his Broadway acting debut in Jelly’s Last Jam. His performance in Seven Guitars earned him the Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Play. won an Obie Award and critical acclaim for his solo show Lackawanna Blues, and his screenplay for the HBO adaptation received the Humanitas Prize, Christopher Award, National Board of Review Honors, and NAACP Image Award; and Emmy, Golden Globe, and Writers Guild of America nominations. His most recent theater performances include Stick Fly (Broadway) A Winter’s Tale (Shakespeare in the Park) and Gem of the Ocean (Broadway). His film credits include Their Eyes Were Watching God, American Gangster, Mr. Brooks, Shaft, Devil’s Advocate, Domestic Disturbance, and The Invention of Lying. He was most recently seen on TV in the ABC show “Castle” as Captain Roy Montgomery; his other TV credits include: “Person of Interest,” “Forgotten Genius,” “The Red Sneakers,” “American Tragedy,” “Solomon and Sheba,” “Rear Window,” “Michael Hayes,” “The West Wing,” and “Law & Order.” He has been honored with numerous awards, including an Obie, Outer Critics Circle, Dramalogue, Clarence Derwent, Glen G. Bartle, and Helen Hayes Awards, the Distinguished Alumni Award from Wayne State University, two AUDELCO Awards, a Black Filmmaker’s Award, a NAMIC Award, and an HBO Comedy Arts Festival Theater Award. Santiago-Hudson was honored with an NAACP Lifetime Achievement Theatre Award in 2009. He is the recipient of an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Buffalo State College.
August Wilson grew up in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, the setting for all but one of his plays. His work has been seen across the United States, as well as on Broadway and all over the world. Two Trains Running -for which Wilson was a Pulitzer Prize finalist and a Tony Award nominee-had its debut at Yale Repertory Theatre in 1990 and opened on Broadway in 1992. The other plays in the Pittsburgh Cycle (also known as the Century Cycle) are Gem of the Ocean, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, The Piano Lesson, Seven Guitars, Fences, Jitney, King Hedley II, and Radio Golf. He was the recipient of numerous awards, including two Pulitzer Prizes (for Fences and The Piano Lesson), a Tony Award for Fences, and Great Britain’s Olivier Award for Jitney.
John Earl Jelks was nominated for a Tony Award for his performance as Sterling in August Wilson’s Radio Golf, which he also toured to the McCarter, Goodman, CENTERSTAGE, SeattleRep., Mark Taper and Yale Rep. Jelks also appeared with Phylicia Rashad on Broadway in August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean as Citizen (after runs at the Goodman, Huntington and Mark Taper, where he won an NAACP Theatre Award and an L.A. Ovation Award). In 2008, Jelks won an AUDELCO Award for his work in the Off-Broadway revival of The First Breeze of Summer. Jelks also appeared Off-Broadway in MCC’s production of Neil LaBute’s The Break of Noon with David Duchovny, Amanda Peet and Tracee Chimo. Regional theatre: Fetch Clay, Make Man at the McCarter Theatre; the world stage premiere of The Shawshank Redemption at the Gaiety Theatre in Ireland; Magnolia at the Goodman Theatre; Joe Turner’s Come and Gone at the Penumbra Theatre Company and Missouri Repertory Theatre. Recently, Jelks appeared as Lt. Ike Murray in the film Snap, as the Man in the Desert in The Miraculous, a short film co-directed and co-written by Laurel Nakadate and Brent Stewart; as Jermaine Dansby Sr. in the Spike Lee helmed TV movie Da Brick. On TV, his guest starring roles include Mr. Achok on “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” and as Ray Bell on “Blue Bloods”.
Karen Perry, who recently designed the costumes for Signature Theatre Company’s critically acclaimed revival of The Piano Lesson starring Two Trains Running castmembers Roslyn Ruff, Chuck Cooper, James A. Williams, is on board for Two Trains Running. Her recent credits include the 10th Anniversary production of Crowns, written and directed by Regina Taylor (Goodman); Pearl Cleage’s Blues for an Alabama Sky, dir. Sheldon Epps (Pasadena Playhouse); John Grisham’s A Time to Kill, dir. Ethan McSweeny (Arena); Regina Taylor’s Trinity River Plays, dir. McSweeny (Dallas Theater Center, Goodman); Walter Mosley’s The Fall of Heaven, dir. Marion McClinton (Cincinnati Playhouse); The Brother/Sister Plays by Pulitzer nominee Tarell McCraney, dir. Tina Landau (The Public) and Landau and Robert O’Hara (McCarter); Things of Dry Hours by Naomi Wallace, dir. Ruben Santiago-Hudson (NYTW); Having Our Say, written and directed by Emily Mann (McCarter); and Resurrection by Daniel Beaty, dir. Oz Scott (Arena). Her regional credits include six August Wilson productions: Gem of the Ocean, The Piano Lesson, King Hedley II, Radio Golf, Two Trains Running, and Seven Guitars. Honors include 2008 and 2006 AUDELCO Awards; the 2007 San Diego Theatre Critics Circle Award; the 2006 “Woodie” Award; and the 2005 National Black Theatre Festival’s Lifetime Achievement Award; as well as AUDELCO, Henry Hewes, and Lortel nominations. Select film/TV credits include: “Saturday Night Live” and The Brother from Another Planet by director John Sayles.
Harvy Blanks has been a member of the Denver Center Theater Company since 1985. Some of his credits at the Denver Center include Fences, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, Gem of the Ocean, King Hedley II, Jitney and The Piano Lesson (all by August Wilson), and A Streetcar Named Desire. In New York, Harvy received a Drama Desk Award for his performance as Oscar in Tabletop. Other noted New York productions include The First Breeze of Summer (Signature Theatre), The Guest of Central Park West (WorkShop Theater Company), and A Prophet Among Them (Blue Heron Theatre). Harvy was recently nominated for an Ovation award for a regional theater production of Driving Miss Daisy.
Anthony Chisholm won Obie and Drama Desk Awards for his performance as Fielding in the original Off-Broadway production of Jitney; he also played the role at the Mark Taper Forum and in London at the Royal National Theatre (Olivier Award for Best Play). He received a Tony nomination for his performance as Elder Joseph Barlow in August Wilson’s Radio Golf; his other Broadway credits include Wilson’s Two Trains Running and Gem of the Ocean. He is the recipient of NAACP, AUDELCO, Ovation, and IRNE Awards; he has also received nominations for Drama Desk, Drama League, Joseph Jefferson, Ovation, NAACP, and AUDELCO Awards. Mr. Chisholm appeared in The Tracers, Ice Bridge, and King Lear for The Public/NYSF. Other theater credits include The Mighty Gents, Back in the World, Melvin Van Peebles’ Ain’t Supposed To Die a Natural Death (first national tour), and Charles Gordone’s No Place to Be Somebody, as well as Tracers at London’s Royal Court and in Sydney and Melbourne, Australia. Regional credits include The Train Driver (Long Wharf), I Am a Man (Goodman), I Just Stopped By to See the Man (Steppenwolf), Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (Denver Center Theatre Company, Cleveland Play House), Fences (Indiana Rep) and Driving Miss Daisy (Portland Stage). His film/TV credits include 13, Blackout, Reign Over Me, Langhorne in Beloved, “100 Center Street” (Emmy consideration), “Hack” (recurring role), “Law & Order: SVU”, “Vietnam War Stories” (Cable Ace nomination), “Third Watch,” and HBO’s “Oz” as series regular Burr Redding.
Chuck Cooper is a veteran of 10 Broadway plays and musicals, and numerous television and film guest lead appearances over the span of his 30 years as a professional actor. He won the 1996 Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a musical for his portrayal of Memphis in The Life. Other Broadway credits include: Finian’s Rainbow; Lennon; Caroline, or Change (AUDELCO Award, Best Featured Actor); Chicago; Passion; Someone to Watch Over Me; Rumors; Amen Corner; Getting Away With Murder. Off-Broadway: Lost In the Stars (Encores); On the Levee (LCT3); Thunder Knocking on the Door (Minetta Lane, AUDELCO nomination); Colored People’s Time (Negro Ensemble Co.); and more. Regional credits include: All My Sons (Intiman); Dance of the Holy Ghosts (Yale Rep); Robeson (Passage Theatre); Othello (New Jersey Shakespeare Festival); Julius Caesar (Philadelphia Drama Guild); Hamlet, Twelfth Night (Shakespeare Theatre, DC); Coriolanus, Timon of Athens, Two Trains Running (San Diego Critics Circle Award, The Old Globe); and more. Television: “Gossip Girl”; “Nurse Jackie”; “Hack”; 1″00 Centre Street”; “Law & Order SVU”; “Oz”;” NYPD Blue”; “Cosby”; “New York Undercover”; “I’ll Fly Away”; and more. Film credits: Boy Wonder; Noise; Evening; American Gangster; Find Me Guilty; Three Days of Rain; The Hurricane; The Opportunists; Gloria; The Juror; North. Mr. Cooper is a Beinecke Fellow at the Yale School of Drama. Favorite role: Eddie, Alex, and Lilli’s father. www.chuckcooper.net.
Owiso Odera Off-Broadway: US premiere of The Overwhelming (Roundabout Theatre Company), Romeo and Juliet (the Public Theater / New York Shakespeare Festival). Regional theater credits include, August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean (A.C.T, San Francisco), Directed by Mr. Santiago-Hudson; The title role in Othello (Folger Theatre, Washington DC); the world premiere of Samuel J. & K. at the Williamstown Theatre Festival (Williamstown, MA); Groundswell, Titus Andronicus, Romeo & Juliet, Midsummer Night’s Dream, Merry Wives of Windsor (The Old Globe, San Diego); Love of Three Oranges (La Jolla Playhouse); Macbeth (Commonwealth Shakespeare Company, Boston). Television: “Blue Bloods” (CBS), “Numb3rs” (CBS), “The Unit” (CBS), “FlashForward” (ABC), recurring roles on “Three Rivers” (CBS) and “DIRT” (FX). Film: The Thirst (Blood Wars), Relative Obscurity, Acholiland and the upcoming Orenthal, the Musical and H4. Training: The Acting Studio, New York. MFA; University of California – San Diego.
Roslyn Ruff Broadway: Fences (standby). Off-Broadway: The Piano Lesson (Signature Theatre Company); Love, Loss, and What I Wore; Macbeth (TFANA); The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter; Things of Dry Hours; Seven Guitars; Killa Dilla; The Cherry Orchard; Macbeth (Classical Theatre of Harlem); Pudd’nhead Wilson; The Taming of the Shrew. Regional work includes: Berkeley Rep, Long Wharf, The Kennedy Center, Indiana Rep, Geva Theatre, Old Globe, Alabama Shakespeare Festival, Alliance Theatre, McCarter Theatre, ACT, Yale Rep, People’s Light & Theatre Co. International: 2004 Bonn Biennale Festival and Shakespeare Festival of Neuss; 2003 Athens Festival. Film: Detachment, The Help, Salt, Life During Wartime, Rachel Getting Married, In the Blood. TV: “A Gifted Man” (Nurse Sulla), “The Big C,” “The Good Wife,” “The Jury,” “The Sopranos.” Awards: 2010 Drama League nomination for Distinguished Performance, 2007 Obie Award for Performance, 2003 Barrymore Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Play. MFA: IATT at Harvard University.
James A. Williams has worked in regional theaters across the country as an actor and educator. Nationally, he has an extensive performing history with Center Stage, Goodman Theatre, Mark Taper Forum, McCarter, Seattle Rep, and Yale Rep culminating on Broadway in August Wilson’s Radio Golf. Williams performed multiple roles in The Kennedy Center’s August Wilson’s Century Cycle, and Off-Broadway in August Wilson’s Jitney, The Piano Lesson, Athol Fugard’s My Children!, My Africa!, and Marion McClinton’s Walkers. A founding company member of Penumbra Theatre in St. Paul, Minnesota, he is Director of Teen Programming at Pillsbury House Theatre. He is also Artistic Director for the Hennepin County Home School Theatre Project and a teaching artist with the International Theatre and Literacy Project. He has led performance workshops at University of Minnesota, Brown University, Macalester College, Colby College, the International School of Kenya, and Akeri and Nshupu Secondary Schools in Tanzania. A 2005 NAACP Image Award nominee, he was awarded the St. Paul Companies Leadership Initiative in the Neighborhoods Grant. He was named Actor of the Year by City Pages Magazine and Artist of the Year by the Minneapolis Star Tribune. He is a TCG New Generations Fellow.
TWO RIVER THEATER COMPANY, under the leadership of Artistic Director John Dias and Managing Director Michael Hurst, is dedicated to producing great classics from the American and world stage, creating new plays and musicals for the American theater, and serving its diverse and multigenerational community through unique partnerships and education programs. Founded in 1994 by Joan and Dr. Robert M. Rechnitz, the theater supports the most exceptional and adventurous artists in the American theater and provides opportunities for its audiences to be part of the creative process. Two River Theater is a member of the League of Resident Theaters (LORT), Theatre Communications Group (TCG), the New Jersey Theatre Alliance, and ArtPride New Jersey, and has been designated a “Major Arts Institution” by the New Jersey State Council on the Arts.
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