Not long after launching this column, I coined the Drama Critic’s Prayer: Dear God, if it can’t be good, let it be short. In fact, today’s playwrights are well aware of the shrunken attention spans of TV-conditioned playgoers, and so their plays are growing shorter by the season. I don’t have a problem with that–I like artists who stick to the point, assuming they have one–but the Signature Theatre Company’s revival of “Two Trains Running,” August Wilson’s 1990 play, is anything but boring even though it runs for three hours and ten minutes. If I hadn’t checked, I would have taken for granted that it clocked in at two hours and change.
What makes “Two Trains Running” so engrossing? It’s not the plot, because there isn’t one. All Wilson does is put his characters in a rundown Pittsburgh diner and set them to mulling over past misfortunes and present frustrations, swapping stories in the time-honored manner of working-class people who can afford no amusement but conversation. The time is 1969, and political implications are scattered throughout this snapshot of a ghetto neighborhood gone to seed, but Wilson never forces them on you. Like all great artists, he trusts you to connect the dots….
Stephen Frears’s film version of “High Fidelity” is on my Top Five list of good movies based on good books, in between “Strangers on a Train” and “Out of Sight.” (I actually prefer it to Nick Hornby’s novel.) The script is smart, the cast impeccable. What’s not to like? Nothing–so why turn it into a musical? Alas, the producers of “High Fidelity” came to a different conclusion, and now seem likely to lose their shirts….
The unfamiliar faces taking up space on the stage of the Imperial Theatre are bland TV-type actors who mostly do their best to remind you of John Cusack, Jack Black, Tim Robbins, Todd Louiso and Lisa Bonet. And that’s what’s wrong with “High Fidelity”: It’s good enough to make you want to go home and watch the movie again–but no better.
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