Critical Overview

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 288

By the time Two Trains Running opened at the Yale Repertory Theater in 1990, Wilson had already achieved the status of a prestigious and eminent dramatist. The play itself was generally well-received, was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Play, and was the recipient of an American Theatre Critics’ Association Award. Beginning with its 1992 Broadway opening, however, a critical debate raged about how Two Trains Running compared to Wilson’s earlier work. As they had his previous play, The Piano Lesson, some critics in the mass media claimed that Wilson was becoming less poetic in his rendition of African American life. Mimi Kramer of the New Yorker suggested that Two Trains Running did not function as eloquently and subtly as Wilson’s earlier efforts, and Clive Barnes of the New York Post criticized the play’s lack of dramatic elegance.

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Other periodicals praised Wilson’s efforts; William A. Henry III writes in Time that “Two Trains Running is Wilson’s most delicate and mature work, if not necessarily his most explosive or dramatic.” In Massachusetts Review, Robert L. King notes that the “civil rights movement rolls on past” Wilson’s characters and highlights the political implications of the play: “Larger-than-life figures won’t correct the injustices of their grocer and bookie, and saints don’t connect to the Afro-American values that Wilson celebrates.” Academic criticism also tends to discuss the work’s upfront political agenda. In her influential book of criticism The Dramatic Vision of August Wilson, for example, Sandra Shannon notes Wilson’s expression of loss over the “debris of an explosive era in black awareness” and his appeal to black youth “to look to the African continuum as inspiration for their cultural preservation and continued advancement.”

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