By TOM CHESEK
In an interview with redbankgreen last year, stage/screen actor and director Ruben Santiago-Hudson told us, “Being involved with the work of August Wilson changes people. People of all colors, all religions, all backgrounds he brings them into an arena and sends them out changed.”
At the time, the specialist in all things Wilson a Tony winner for his performance in 1995’s Seven Guitars) was at Red Bank’s Two River Theater to oversee rehearsals for a new production of August Wilson’s Jitney. That acclaimed and extended run found Santiago-Hudson assembling a top-notch cast highlighted by fellow Tony winner Chuck Cooper who also co-starred in Two River Theater Company’s musical premiere In This House along with Anthony Chisholm, Harvy Blanks, Roslyn Ruff and James A. Williams.
All of these Wilson veterans are back on the Two River boards this month, as TRTC returns to Pittsburgh’s Hill District for a major new production of August Wilson’s Two Trains Running.
Set amid the social upheaval and forced urban renewal of the late 1960s and playing out in a shabby diner set-designed by Michael Carnahan Two Trains unfolds as eatery owner Memphis (Cooper) ponders the prospect of the city buying him out of his fast-fading business, home to a gallery of vivid local characters, and workplace of the embittered and elusive object of desire named Risa (Ruff).
Into this dreary tableau come a couple of characters portrayed by actors making their Two River debuts. Owiso Odera, who worked with the director in a San Francisco staging of Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean, plays Sterling, a young ex-convict with an optimistic set of dreams, if not the dollars to fulfill them, and John Earl Jelks, who was Tony nominated for playing an older version of that same Sterling in Wilson’s Radio Golf, appears as the slick numbers runner named Wolf.
The Drama Desk at redbankgreen got delayed a bit by Two Trains Crossing at station stop Little Silver, but managed to pull into Red Bank for a whistle-stop interview with Owiso Odera. Mind the closing doors…