A diner set. A young Black waitress in a yellow uniform stands next to a Black man seated at a table in the forefroung. We see three other Black men behind them; one in a booth on the left, a younger Black man standing by the register, and a man behind the register.
Two Trains Running at Court Theatre Credit: Michael Brosilow

This is an impeccable production of a play whose weaknesses outweigh its considerable strengths. It’s the 1960s episode of August Wilson’s Pittsburgh Cycle, tracing a century of life in the African American Hill District, and urban renewal shadows everything. (Jack Magaw’s set presents this vividly.) The diner where the play takes place is nearly empty of customers but remains the community center for half a dozen men, each with his own fixed idea of how to get happy or rich or out of there. Their monologues suggest that the title’s “two trains” represent the material and spiritual worlds—the latter indomitable, while the former ebbs and flows in a pattern no one can understand.

Two Trains Running
Through 6/12: Wed-Fri 7:30 PM, Sat-Sun 2 and 7:30 PM; Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis, 773-753-4472, courttheatre.org, $37.50-$84.

So far, so fine. But as Chekhov says, if you bring a gun onstage in act one, you have to shoot it in act two. So Wilson’s decision to supply one character with an enormous gasoline can during a conversation about fire insurance seems ill-judged, unless this is a prose poem rather than a play. The happy ending is unearned. And the one woman (waitress Risa, played by Kierra Bunch) gets nothing to do and little to say: mostly she’s talked about instead of talking.  

But nothing can undermine the ensemble’s superb work under Ron OJ Parson’s sensitive direction. A.C. Smith and Alfred H. Wilson, two of Chicago’s foremost interpreters of the playwright’s work, handle the famously iterative dialogue with their trademark fluency. They are first among equals in a cast which wears its awesome skill lightly. But special laurels for Joseph Primes, who manages to make two lines of dialogue endlessly repeated into an entire life story.