Friday, February 8, 2019

Two Trains Running Is On Track At The Matrix

Alex Morris, Montae Russell, Terrell Tilford, Nija Okoro,
Ellis E. Williams, Dorian Missick and Adolphus Ward
photo by Tiffany Judkins

By Darlene Donloe
August Wilson is known for writing rich, layered, interesting characters with a lot of something to say.

Seven of those characters are represented in Two Trains Running, the 60s installment of Wilson’s Pittsburgh Cycle series of 10 plays which chronicles the Black experience in his childhood neighborhood, decade by decade, over the course of the 20th century.

Two Trains Running, currently playing at the Matrix Theatre in Hollywood through March 3, takes place in a diner. It is set in the Hill District of Pittsburgh in 1969 and examines the Civil Rights movement of the 60s while detailing the uncertain future promised to Blacks at the time. Memphis Lee is the central character in the story. He understands that, due to development in the community, his once successful diner will inevitably have to be sold. He wants to make sure he gets his piece of the pie in the form of what he considers a fair profit.   As the story unfolds we’re introduced to some of the neighborhood regulars that frequent the diner – often ordering beans and cornbread.

The regulars each have their own story to tell and they’re very vocal at relaying their tales.

When August Wilson’s words combine with Michele Shay’s direction, and the actors’ vibrant portrayals, it's no wonder this incarnation of Two Trains Running is on the right track.

The production comes alive for the aforementioned reasons, but also due to the stellar accouterments known as scenic design (John Iacovelli), costume design (Mylette Nora), light design (Brian Gale), sound design (Jeff Gardner) and makeup, hair, and wig design (Shelia Dorn).

The characters are vivid, lively and fully developed.  This strong cast puts power behind Wilson’s dialogue-heavy tome.

Terrell Tilford as Wolf
photo by Tiffany Judkins

From the minute the first character, Wolf, takes the stage, the audience is pulled into the diner as patrons. 

Montae Russell plays Memphis
photo by Tiffany Judkins 

In previous years, Memphis (Montae Russell) the owner of the diner, was denied some land he was supposed to inherit and is now trying to get his pot of gold by selling the diner to some developers for a hefty profit.

Wolf (Terrell Tilford) is a flamboyant numbers runner, who is only focused on how he’s going to make his next dollar.

Nija Okoro plays Risa
photo by Tiffany Judkins

Risa (Nija Okoro) is a no-nonsense waitress who at one time had issues with scarring herself, but has recovered and is trying her best to survive.

Adolphus Ward as Holloway
photo by Tiffany Judkins 

Holloway (Adolphus Ward) is the elder of the bunch who is both wise, contented and loves to wax lyrical about a 322-year-old sage.

Ellis E. Williams portrays Hambone
photo by Tiffany Judkins 

Hambone (Ellie E. Williams) has some mental challenges but is clear and present when remembering that almost a decade earlier a local grocer promised him a ham if he completed some work, but never made good on his word. Hambone rather vocally reminds everyone within hearing distance how he was slighted.

Dorian Missick as Sterling
photo by Tiffany Judkins

Sterling (Dorian Missick) just recently got out of prison and is looking, vehemently, for a job. He’s also quite smitten with Risa.

Alex Morris plays West
photo by Tiffany Judkins

West (Alex Morris), who owns several buildings, is the local exploitive mortician, who is anxious to buy the diner from Memphis.

This cast is wrought with talent and more talent. Everyone involved is a vet of the stage and it shows with their chemistry and effortless movement about the stage.

While every actor in this production can hold their own, Adolphus Ward with his spot on timing, comical retorts, impeccable delivery, and sturdy stage presence, quite eloquently steals the show.

Nija Okoro, who seductively glides across the stage, gives a subtle, yet powerful performance. Ellis Williams delivers his usual brilliance. Alex Morris, Dorian Missick and Terrell Tilford imbue their characters. Montae Russell gives a smoldering and emotive performance.

Kudos to Michele Shay for a fluid and crisp directorial triumph!

Two Trains Running is a theatrical feast. Stop by and try the beans and cornbread!

August Wilson’s Two Trains Running, directed by Michele Shay, and produced by Sophina Brown, stars Dorian Missick, Alex Morris, Nija Okoro, Montae Russell, Terrell Tilford, Adolphus Ward, and Ellis Williams.

Two Trains Running, The Matrix Theatre 7657 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles; 8 p.m., Thu-Sat., 2 p.m. Sat. and 2 p.m. Sun. through March 3; $35; 855-326-9945 or

On the DONLOE SCALE: D (don’t bother) O (oh, yeah), N (needs work), L (likable), O (oh, no) and E (excellent), Two Trains Running gets an E (excellent).

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