The characters talk and talk throughout Two Trains Running, but what they say and do never really adds up to much in Pulitzer Prize-winner August Wilson's play about seven regulars in a Pittsburgh diner circa 1969. This is a long (nearly three hours), static work that speaks to the lofty ambitions of the M Ensemble Company, but it is also curiously devoid of motive and meaning.
The action takes place in a bland, prototypical diner that has been designed by E. Marcus Smith to look like a Norman Rockwell painting. Each person has his or her own drama: Owner Memphis (Keith C. Wade) is determined to sell the property for five times the amount he paid; waitress Risa (Lela Elam) is so forlorn that her next smile will be her first; and the single line repeated by Hambone (Prince Bowie) -- "He gonna give me my ham" -- goes from funny to creepy with disturbing ease.
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While the performances are mostly solid, the writing bogs down the story with so much extraneous jabber it's difficult to develop much interest in anyone. This is also the case for Sterling (Meshaun Lebrone Arnold), who just "got out of the penitentiary" and can't find work, but at least Arnold is able to bring a youthful vibrancy to the role that, intentionally or not, easily makes him the most interesting character.
Two Trains Running
M Ensemble Company, 12320 W. Dixie Hwy., North Miami
Written by August Wilson. Directed by John Pryor. With Keith C. Wade, Chat Atkins, Lela Elam, Nate Benson, Prince Bowie, Meshaun Labrone Arnold, and Roy G. Phillips. Presented through December 19. 305-895-8955 or www.themensemble.com
It's odd for any work, theatrical or otherwise, to have so much going on and yet add up to so little. While director John Pryor seems to remain unobtrusive, he may have been better served to put on his editing cap, cut 45 minutes of throwaway dialogue, and give us something more coherent.