Memphis, the cafe owner, has all the answers except why his wife left him two months before. They have four children. Risa, who works for Memphis in the cafe, has an idea.
Prophet Samuel is being buried on a Tuesday. Tuesday in Yoruba is Isegun, Day of Victory or Triumph. Aunt Ester sees visitors on Tuesdays. Prophet Samuel reminds us of Father Divine and Daddy Grace.
Hambone and Risa have a natural affinity. We later learn they both are involved in scarification.
“In some African tribes, it was like wearing your identity card on your face. True, some may hate that, but this was a mark of pride, not shame. In most African cultures, it was a major aesthetic and cultural component as can be seen on sculptures in museums around the world. Scarification patterns on sculptures are not only marks of beauty, but marks of one’s lineage as well, and in some cases protection against evil spirits. Lastly, in Africa like in Polynesia, scarification is more visible on darker skinned people than say, tattoos.” https://afrolegends.com/2015/09/16/scarification-an-ancient-african-tattoo-culture/
A man named Zanelli is behind in servicing the Jukebox. He is the “bringer” of music to the cafe, he controls the atmosphere. The jukebox only plays one song when it works, Aretha Franklin’s “Take a Look” (on the playlist). There a several reference to the broken jukebox throughout the play, a sort of sounding board for the general state of things. From Wikipedia:
Jukeboxes were most popular from the 1940s through the mid-1960s, particularly during the 1950s. By the middle of the 1940s, three-quarters of the records produced in America went into jukeboxes. Billboard published a record chart measuring jukebox play during the 1950s, which briefly became a component of the Hot 100; by 1959, the jukebox’s popularity had waned to the point where Billboard ceased publishing the chart and stopped collecting jukebox play data.
Traditional jukeboxes once were an important source of income for record publishers. Jukeboxes received the newest recordings first. Theybecame an important market-testing device for new music, since they tallied the number of plays for each title. They offered a means for the listener to control the music outside of their home, before audio technology became portable. They played music on demand without commercials. They also offered the opportunity for high fidelity listening before home high fidelity equipment became affordable.
The invention of the portable radio in the 1950s and the portable cassette tape deck in the 1960s were key factors in the decline of the jukebox. They enabled people to have their own selection of music with them, wherever they were. Jukeboxes became a dying industry during the 1970s, before being revived somewhat by compact disc jukeboxes during the 1980s and 1990s, followed by digital jukeboxes using the MP3 format. While jukeboxes maintain popularity in bars, they have fallen out of favor with what were once their more lucrative locations—restaurants, diners, military barracks, video arcades, and laundromats.
Holloway is a true believer in Aunt Ester, just as Risa is a true believer in Prophet Samuel. Their beliefs seem to co-exist throughout the play. Only Memphis criticizes Risa, and only West criticizes Holloway.
Aunt Esther here and in her other appearances is a true Stoic, advising her visitors always to change the way they look at a situation or a problem. She requires them to throw money into the river, i.e., to lessen their psychological dependence on money as a solution to their problems.
Memphis reminds one of Seth in Joe Turner’s Come and Gone when it comes to “traditional” beliefs, though Seth is the first one to grab the harmonica when it’s time to Juba. To his credit, Memphis credits his victory in court to Aunt Ester, not to his white lawyer. We later learn that Memphis has reading disabilities.
Memphis has a pipe dream of reclaiming his land in Mississippi just like Hambone has a pipe dream of getting his ham. Both misled by false, unrealizable hopes. Memphis sees that pipe dream in Hambone, but does not see it in himself. Scholars compare this the Hope’sBar in O‘Neill’s The Iceman Cometh.
Title cut: Two Trains Running. Ties to Doaker’s reflections on train motion in The Piano Lesson. Stovall, who Lymon was indentured to in The Piano Lesson, sold Memphis land without water rights in Two Trains Running, then led a bunch of men in chasing Memphis off the land and slaughtering his mule.
Mass incarceration = stacking niggers? Still working that one out.
Holloway mentions a little bit of history of Prophet Samuel, who was known as Reverend Samuel before he visited with Aunt Ester. Holloway makes a passing reference to Prophet Samuel wearing robes, baptizing people in the river, and going barefooted. That final reference reminded me of a personality known as the Barefoot Prophet who had a small following in my hometown in the 20’s and 30’s, along with his successor who was known as Mr. Bobo. Here is a bit of info: https://www.harlemworldmagazine.com/elder-clayhorn-martin-the-barefoot-prophet-in-harlem-1929/
Philmore the customer from Jitney shows up in Two Trains selling a property to West.
Does Memphis” criticism of “Black Is Beautiful” apply to “Black Lives Matter?” At least “Black is beautiful” was an identity and not a tautology.
Syllabus – August Wilson American Century Cycle SG-685 – OLLI-AU. Spring 2021
Course Description The study group will read and discuss one August Wilson play each week for ten weeks, completing the Century Cycle of ten plays. Each group member will be required to read each play at home and be prepared to contribute to a group discussion on what they have read. The goal of the course will not be to exhaustively discuss each play. Instead, each group member (including the group leader) will select a brief passage to read aloud to the class, followed by a brief, collaborative close read and discussion by the group.
Instructional Methods The course uses collaborative group discussion and close reading of a passage selected by each group member.
Required Texts Group members will be required to procure all the plays listed below. The first five plays are linked in the syllabus, others will have to be purchased or borrowed from the library. The complete set of plays in hardback is available on Amazon for $100-$160. Each play can be found separately in paperback for $6-10 each.
Additional Suggested Texts Bigsby, Christopher. Editor. 2007. The Cambridge Companion to August Wilson. Bryer, Jackson and Mary C. Hartig. 2006. Conversations with August Wilson. Elkins, Marilyn. 1994. August Wilson, A Casebook. Herrington, Joan. 2004. I Ain’t Sorry for Nothing I Done. Nadal, Alan. 1994. May All Your Fences Have Gates: Essays on the drama of August Wilson. Nadal, Alan. 2010. Completing the Twentieth-Century Cycle. Nadal, Alan. 2018. The Theatre of August Wilson. Shannon, Sandra and Dana Williams. 2004. August Wilson and Black Aesthetics. Shannon, Sandra. 1995. The Dramatic Vision of August Wilson. Snodgrass, Mary Ellen. 2004. August Wilson: A Literary Companion. Temple, Riley Keene. 2017. Aunt Esters Children Redeemed.
Course Requirements Class participation. Each study group member will be expected to contribute to each week’s discussion.
Two Trains Running, set in 1969, covers a lot of territory. Let’s get started.
There’s much to be said, written and discussed about the play’s title, Two Trains Running. Wilson reveals in an interview with the dramaturg, Richard Pettengill, that
“There are two ideas in the play, or at least two ideas that have confronted black America since Emancipation, the ideas of cultural assimilation and cultural separatism. These were, in my mind, the two trains. I wanted to write a play about a character for whom neither of these two trains were working. He had to build a new railroad in order to get to where he’s going, because the trains are not going his way. That was the idea when I started out exploring.”
There is an element here from the Blind Lemon Jefferson blues tune, whose lyrics, or an excerpt of them, form the epigraph of an earlier play, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom:
“They tore the railroad down So the Sunday Special can’t run I’m going away baby Build me a railroad of my own.”
And there is a second glimpse into this idea, I think, in the following Doaker monologue in The Piano Lesson, Act 1, Scene 1:
“They go so many trains out there they have a hard time keeping them from running into each other. Got trains going every which way. Got people on all of them. Somebody going where somebody just left. If everybody stay in one place I believe this would be a better world.”
That gets us to a starting point, at least. But as we learn from reading the play, it is only a framework, these two trains. Because in the play we see not two but four options pointed out, though at this point, it is suggested that only three are plausible. By 1969, the accommodationist model highlighted by Kingian non-violence has long since been abandoned and only receives fleeting mention in the diner discussions. What’s left are three discussable routes to inner and outer peace and progress, Prophet Samuel, Malcolm X, and Aunt Ester, and these three receive the bulk of mention as the play unwinds.
We are three weeks and change away from the start of the 4th session of the August Wilson American Century Cycle study group in the spring semester of the OLLI program at American University. And another two weeks away from the biennial August Wilson Society Colloquium in Pittsburgh, March 12-15. It all runs together in terms of preparation work and I am so excited about it all!