After Three Decades, A Dream Come True On Stage
Lamont Thompson shares the deep impact of hearing August Wilson for the first time and experiencing his dream come true leading August Wilson’s Two Trains Running at Marin Theatre Company.
In the heart of Mill Valley at Marin Theatre Company, a three-decade dream comes true for Lamont Thompson on November 25, and the entire community has a chance to witness it. The actor and local favorite began his early career training at the acclaimed American Musical and Dramatic Academy (AMDA). While green in his theatre experience, in 1992, he received student-discounted tickets to attend a Broadway play: August Wilson’s Two Trains Running. Lamont entered the theater with little expectation, as August Wilson was only newly erupting onto the scene.
As the lights dimmed, Thompson recalls the show was a student matinee, brimming with youthful energy, but 10 minutes in, “the entire house was rapt and into it, and I remember thinking: this is what I’m trying to do … I’ve got to get to work!” Thompson said playing the role of Memphis became an instant dream as the breathtaking theater experience included being in the “sights of legends” that included Laurence Fishburne, Anthony Chisholm, Roscoe Lee Browne and more directed by Wilson’s oft-artistic partner Lloyd Richards. Their inspiration stayed with Thompson through graduate school and now three decades of “getting to work” has made that dream come true with Thompson playing the lead role of Memphis this November 25 to December 15 at the nationally-recognized regional theatre, Marin Theatre Company.
He unpacks the power of that inciting moment when looking back on it now as “that was the first time I had ever seen a play full of black folks where nothing was intended to be a joke but you couldn’t stop laughing because it was all true. The things making you laugh and cry weren’t intended, they’re just the reality.” Thompson says that’s a key power of August Wilson’s plays; they share “not just the frustration but also the glory of the African American experience.”
Now that the dream has come true, and the process is real, how is it measuring up? He seems to find more joy in it than ever. When asked about what he feels now that he’s finally tasked with stepping into Memphis’ shoes all these years later, Lamont shares that “it’s beautiful because I get to play someone I know very well. Memphis is an uncle. He’s my uncles, dad, friends — he has the same passion, anger, love. To be able to play someone that familiar is challenging, intimidating — and freeing.”
This freedom also comes with the opportunity for Lamont Thompson to now stand before an audience and bring Wilson’s words to life for new audiences of all ages. Marin Theatre Company’s education department has opened up two student matinees at 11 a.m. on December 7 and December 14 to create opportunities for educators to ignite young minds not only with the literature but also with the big themes that Wilson famously writes about so clearly. “This play is not just about the frustration but also about the glory of the African American experience,” Thompson clarifies, adding that the specificity of this story both profoundly addresses while simultaneously reaching beyond “a race issue, there may be young Black people who may not know about these exact issues [happening] in 1969,” while moving through everyone in the house, because “there’s things to learn historically, culturally — and then walk away feeling refreshed, because you’ve taken a journey with folks that hopefully you’ve fallen in love with.”
In true Wilsonian poetic realism, Thompson ends the conversation with a story that hearkens to a larger truth: “I attended the premiere of [the film of August Wilson’s] Fences, and Denzel Washington [who produced and starred as Troy Maxson in the film] was there. In Q&A with the audience after, [Washington] points to this white guy in the audience and says, ‘Yeah, you. I sat next to you. You were crying through all of this. What was going on?’ And this young white kid said, ‘You played my dad. Troy is my dad.’ And that’s what August Wilson does with his plays,” Thompson continues, “You will be moved if your heart is open.”
August Wilson’s Two Trains Running runs November 25 to December 18 at the nationally recognized regional theater, Marin Theatre Company. Divine Nine night is for ticket-holders on December 3; student matinees are available for schools on December 7 and 14; a preshow themed-social will happen on-site at the theater for ticket holders on December 16. Learn more and get tickets here.