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Chuck Smith’s Production is the Centerpiece of Citywide Celebration of Playwright August Wilson

CHICAGO, IL – “There are always only two trains running. There is life and there is death. Each of us rides them both.” –Playwright August Wilson (1945 – 2005). Goodman Theatre revives Two Trains Running, Wilson’s poetic and personal portrait of the small dreams that fuel societal revolution. Resident Director Chuck Smith directs Wilson’s masterpiece, praised by Variety as “perfection…a writer at the peak of his powers.” Seven Chicago favorites—Chester Gregory (Sterling), Anthony Irons (Wolf), Nambi E. Kelley (Risa), Ron OJ Parson (Memphis), Ernest Perry Jr. (Hambone), A.C. Smith (West) and Alfred Wilson (Holloway)—portray the denizens of a Pittsburgh diner who “talk and testify, dream and doubt, their fantastic speech almost qualifying as song” (Chicago Sun-Times), as “Wilson’s genius for translating common language into poetry through rhythm, repetition and telling imagery reveals a world of myth, religion and folk spirit” (Chicago Tribune). The creative team for Two Trains Running includes Linda Buchanan (set design); John Culbert (lighting design); Josh Horvath and Ray Nardelli (sound design); and Birgit Wise (costume design). Neena Arndt is the Dramaturg. Two Trains Running appears March 7 – April 12, 2015 in the Albert Theatre (opening night is Monday, March 16). Tickets ($27 - $80; subject to change) are on sale at GoodmanTheatre.org/TwoTrains, by phone at 312.443.3800 or at the box office (170 North Dearborn).

One of the 20th century’s most acclaimed playwrights, August Wilson won the Pulitzer Prize for Fences and The Piano Lesson, as well as Rockefeller and Guggenheim fellowships, a Tony Award, Drama Desk Award and four New York Drama Critics’ Circle Awards. Coinciding with Two Trains Running, the Goodman honors his artistry and influence on American culture with a citywide career retrospective, The August Wilson Celebration, March 7 – April 18. Celebration Curator Chuck Smith, together with Constanza Romero (Wilson’s widow), Ron OJ Parson (actor/director and Two Trains Running cast member) and Dr. Harvey Young (Northwestern University), partners with more than 20 theaters, schools and organizations. The Celebration features FREE concert (script-in-hand) readings of Wilson’s nine other “20th Century Cycle” plays, educational seminars, discussions, poetry and more. The Goodman was the first theater in the world to produce all 10 plays in the cycle.

“Of all the Goodman’s artistic partnerships in my tenure as artistic director, none has been more meaningful than our 20-year association with August Wilson—a crucial voice in the American theater, an esteemed colleague, and a great personal friend,” said Artistic Director Robert Falls. “As the centerpiece of a massive Celebration that demonstrates August’s indelible effect, Chuck has chosen to revive Two Trains Running; we produced the Chicago premiere in 1993, and are thrilled to revisit this eloquent and powerful play two decades later.”

At the time of the Goodman’s Chicago premiere, directed by Lloyd Richards, August Wilson recalled, “The so-called ‘red letter events’ of the 1960s—the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy, the anti-war demonstrations, etc.—sometimes didn’t reach the average person who was confronted with just simply living. I was concerned about those people, how they were doing, where they were going.”

The civil rights movement is sweeping across Pittsburgh’s Hill District in 1969—but the promise of a better tomorrow hasn’t quite reached all the city’s residents. Folks gather daily at Memphis Lee’s once-prosperous diner to gossip about the neighborhood, blighted by the missteps of urban renewal and decimated by crime and poverty, and dream about the future. Memphis must decide if he should allow the government to take over his building or sell it to a ruthless businessman.

“The two trains, or two ideas, in the play—cultural assimilation or cultural separatism—have confronted black America since the emancipation,” said Chuck Smith, who previously directed Wilson’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (1997) and also served as dramaturg for the world premiere of Gem of the Ocean (2003) at the Goodman. “It’s a gift to work with this cast, whose many previous August Wilson credits deepen the process and enrich the experience.”

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