notes on Two Trains Running (4.25.2019)

Looking for a different angle this reading.

I think i may find it before Friday morning! Some critics say Two Trains Running doesn’t capture the vitality of the 60’s the way, say, Fences captures the angst of the 50’s. I have to give that some thought. The play is set in 1969, after all the excitement of the 60’s, the greening of American, the civil rights activism, Woodstock, all that stuff has come and gone. Well, maybe not Woodstock. The Kennedy’s have been killed and there is no more hope for Camelot. King and Malcolm X have been killed and those dreams ended. I think by 1969 all the political fantasies are over and done with and people, a bit dazed, are just trying to find their way to some equilibrium, any steady state that will let them get on with their lives. I think this juncture is where Wilson has placed his 60’s play.

There is a passing reference to King, sandwiched in between long monologues about Malcolm X. Memphis says,

“They killed Martin. If they did that to him you can imagine what they do to me or you.”

Earlier he says of Malcolm X,

” Malcolm X is dead. Malcolm ain’t having no more birthdays. Dead men don’t have birthdays.”

And later he deconstructs the Freedom, Justice and Equality of the Nation of Islam by saying 1) freedom is heavy; 2) ain’t no justice; and 3) equality is a nonstarter because people are just not equal to one another. Then he adds a a crown to the Black is Beautiful movement by saying its followers sound as if they are trying to convince themselves their blackness is beauty.

Holloway has the solution. When asked why he didn’t become a Malcolm X follower in the early days of his preaching, Holloway responds that he didn’t need to as long as he knew the way to Aunt Ester’s.

That brings us to an important point in the play. Participation in the mass movements of the day is downplayed, and support for local leaders, like Prophet Samuel and Aunt Ester is highlighted. Risa has been paying tithes to Prophet Samuel’s church, not because she believes in some supernatural intervention, but because she believes Prophet Samuel helps people with legal issues on a day to day basis. Holloway recommends Aunt Ester because he can see a change she made in his relationship with his father. These are tangible benefits with certain payoff. Hambone wants his ham and he petitions for it daily with Mr Lutz. I think Memphis’ logic would say even Hambone has a better chance of achieving his objective than some others in the play.

In Scene Three, Sterling makes a reference to Toner Institute, a local orphanage where he grew up. Again, such a place really did exist. It provided a home/school environment to boys from broken or disruptive homes and remained in existence until 1977. In later years, enrollment shrunk along with county and state subsidies in a time of rising prices.

Then there is the ever-present issue of urban renewal breathing down the backs of not only the diner owner, Memphis, but all the folks for which the diner has become a type of second home.  In most places where it was applied, urban renewal became a sort of pipe dream whose goals were never achieved. Long standing neighborhoods were destroyed, families were decimated along with institutions like churches, community centers, and businesses.

This all became a part of the overall environmental malaise of the late 60’s, which, it might be argued, is accurately depicted in the Wilson play. The title, Two Trains Running, may suggest that there are some options available, both in terms of mobility, upward or downward, and in terms of simple navigation. Memphis has a dream of going back south to reclaim his farm, but once he gets his compensation his focus changes to getting a bigger restaurant in a better commercial part of town. By the way, reflecting back on last week’s discussion, there is an indication that Memphis is functionally illiterate when, at the end of Act One, he makes mention of a clause in the deed to his property referencing eminent domain that he doesn’t really understand. Similarly, the deed to his property down south also had a “hidden” clause that perhaps was only hidden to him because he could not read.

Stovall is mentioned and I wonder is it the same Stovall as in The Piano Lesson? Also, Sarah Degree is mentioned and she was mentioned previously in Seven Guitars as the provider of home remedies to Hedley.

Notes from Session #1: https://augustwilsonstudygroup.wordpress.com/2018/04/09/some-takeaways-from-two-trains-running/

Notes from Session #2: https://augustwilsonstudygroup.wordpress.com/2018/10/29/notes-on-two-trains-running-10-29-2018/

Carole’s excellent background notes: https://augustwilsonstudygroup.wordpress.com/2018/10/31/carole-horns-notes-on-two-trains-running-with-notes-links-and-annotations/

A very good review on the “aboutness”of the play: http://phindie.com/11061-dear-white-people-two-trains-running-is-not-about-race/

OK. Let’s stop here and discuss.

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