As I mentioned in yesterday's Music Monday post, Joel and I recently saw August Wilson's play Two Trains Running at Penumbra Theatre in St. Paul, Minnesota. This particular production has already run its course, but if there's a theatre company in your area producing any August Wilson play, or if you have the opportunity to go see one in the future, buy a ticket; you'll be glad you did.
While Two Trains Running is set in 1969, this work is as relevant today as when it was written about 20 years ago and as it would have been 40-plus years ago. The issues floating on the surface in Two Trains Running remain relevant: The gap between the rich and poor has increased; problems with the economy and unemployment have returned to haunt us; pockets within cities are constantly under redevelopment. And tensions between different groups—black and white, rich and poor, gay and straight, republican and democrat, Christian and Muslim—sizzle as much as ever.
Below the superficial layer stream themes universal to all humanity, no matter one's race or creed: We are all human with faults and aspirations; on some level, we are all oppressors and victims of oppression; and, whether we believe in fate or in the philosophy of choice, we all make our own choices in perceiving our personal realities.
We are all human with faults and aspirations. What right have we to judge others when none of us is without a skeleton or two in the closet, none of us is without faults. All of us love, have dreams, die. From a humanist perspective, we are all fundamentally the same, despite our differences.
We are all oppressors and victims of oppression. Take a look at this list of
12 Types of Oppression. I'd be willing to bet each of us is guilty of some form of -ism, some level of unrighteous judgement of others. At the same time, each of us may have been on the receiving end of an -ism at one point or another. In Two Trains Running, the character Memphis complains about whites back home in the South pushing him off his land, and he rails about being taken advantage of by the city, which is claiming emminant domain over the building he owns. At the same time, Memphis treats his employee, Risa, poorly and beats Hambone, a mentally disturbed man, with hardly a second thought.
We all make our own choices in perceiving our personal realities. The Two Trains Running character West spews his well-earned wisdom at a younger character: "The trouble with you, Sterling, is you're carrying around a 10-gallon bucket. If someone puts a drop in there, it looks empty. Get you a cup!" West's lesson is that if you go around expecting life (or someone or something other than yourself) to fill completely the 10-gallon bucket you're carrying, you will, without a doubt, be disappointed. Instead, carry a cup and be happy with each little drop. Do you choose to carry a 10-gallon bucket or a cup? How do you see things: half full? Or half empty? The choice is yours.
With vivid characters, intense emotions and a story as real as your own reflection in the mirror, August Wilson's work poignantly communicates with hearts and minds of diverse audience members, no matter their backgrounds.
The life I know best is black American life and through Bearden I realized that you could arrive at the universal through the specific.
—August Wilson (1945-2005)