STORY WRITTEN BY TARA LYNN JOHNSON
For Digital First Media
The Civil Rights movement in 1969 comes to life in the next production of the Arden Theatre Company. “Two Trains Running,” written by legendary playwright August Wilson, takes the stage from March 10 through April 10.
The story: In Pittsburgh’s Hill District, Memphis Lee’s diner is scheduled to be torn down, a casualty of the city’s renovation project. Memphis and the diner regulars fight to hang on to their solidarity and sense of community.
Raelle Myrick-Hodges, who said she doesn’t have a hometown because “theaters are my address,” directs the show, which is a thematic play, she said in an email interview.
“An audience discovers characters and their thoughts as a series of events take place within a one-week span,” she said. “Our lead character Memphis is considering selling his property to the city for rehabilitation. Another character returns home from being incarcerated. Our only female character is an enigmatic soul with secrets untold. Taking place in 1969, it correlates to present day conversation of the African American community.”
Directing this show at the Arden is especially meaningful.
“I began my career at the Arden,” she said. “Beginning as an apprentice in their program was my first step towards being a director and producer. And now, 20 years later, I get to come home artistically and be a part of the community that I began directing.”
All of her work, including this play, helps her to grow, she said.
“My artistry is what teaches me to be a better human being,” she said. “The texts and performances I get to create have me interact with people all over the world. Because I like writing, I was able to live in Beirut. Because I enjoy producing, I was able to live in London. What it means to be a human being is the essence of being an artist: do your best to share something with the world that can make the world a better place. Taking care of others allows you space to learn to care for yourself. Also, great failure means continue to pursue, not give up on life or art.”
This particular play, though, is a tough tale to tell.
“Without a traditional narrative plot, yet a lot of beautiful language, it’s as if I am working in classic Shakespeare at times,” she said. “There are two- to three-page monologues of one character’s vision of the world, and sometimes that world doesn’t make sense.”
Those are some of the challenges she’s facing and conquering. It’s all part of the process and will pay off when the first performance begins, and people come to enjoy the work of one of the greatest playwrights of all-time.
“August Wilson is one of the most important American playwrights of the 20 and 21st centuries,” she said. “His 10-play canon of the African American experience will resonate as part of American culture for decades to come.”