By August Wilson
Directed by Aaron Todd Douglas
At Raven Theatre, Chicago
August Wilson’s The Pittsburgh or Century Cycle:
- 1900s – Gem of the Ocean (2003)
- 1910s – Joe Turner’s Come and Gone (1988)
- 1920s – Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (1984) – set in Chicago
- 1930s – The Piano Lesson (1990) – Pulitzer Prize
- 1940s – Seven Guitars (1995)
- 1950s – Fences (1987) – Pulitzer Prize
- 1960s – Two Trains Running (1991)
- 1970s – Jitney (1982)
- 1980s – King Hedley II (1999)
- 1990s – Radio Golf (2005)
Raven Theatre’s production of Radio Golf is a heartfelt work
Aaron Todd Douglas has a fine vision for August Wilson’s work having acted in and directed several Wilson works including Seven Guitars, The Piano Lesson and Joe Turner’s Come and Gone. His non-Equity production of August Wilson’s Radio Golf is a spirited and articulate stage worthy look at the emerging African-American high finance entrepreneurs as they battle both city hall and the old guard residents of Pittsburgh’s Hill District.
Written in the eloquently lyrical style of Wilson, Radio Golf contains the tenth play about the African-American experience as part of the Century Cycle set in 1997. Harmond Wilks (Michael Pogue) is the Ivy League-educated neighborhood real estate developer who is running to be Pittsburgh’s first black mayor. He and his ambitious wife, Mame (Demetria Thomas) want to redevelop the “blighted” area of the Hill District.
Together with his partner, the golf-playing Roosevelt Hicks (Warren Levon) the two are engineering a development deal on Wylie Avenue to build a high-rise apartment building with a ground floor filled with high-end chain stores like Starbucks, Whole Foods, and Barnes & Noble. Their deal depends on federal money, which requires a finding that the area is “blighted.” The city politics and backroom deals find Harmond and Roosevelt believing that they have arrived as equal competitors in capitalism’s public-private arena, but they may just be black front men for white money. The two golf-players are confident – Harmond will be mayor of Pittsburgh and Roosevelt will become rich.
However, when a couple of poor Hill District folks arrive at the real estate office, complications arise. First, Elder Joseph Barlow (David Adams) asks for Harmond’s help with a court summons he received for painting an old house at 1839 Wylie Street. The reality firm purchased the house from the city for delinquent taxes. However, Barlow still believes he owns the house. It is located in the center of the new large-scale development and it must be torn-down to make room for the development.
As Harmond researches the old house, it turns out to have a significant past. It was the home of Aunt Ester, the hereditary folk priestess whose tale goes back to 1619, when the first shipload of African slaves was brought to Virginia. Harmond also fins out that his family paid the taxes on the location for years. He comes to realize, with the help of the outspoken Sterling Johnson (Antoine Pierre Whitfield) – the self-appointed union member and construction expert, that doing the ‘right thing’ may necessitate re-evaluating his grandiose plans for the Hill District.
Radio Golf effectively covers the conflicts between the newly rich African-Americans who see urban renewal as important verses the old guard who want to preserve the past. Wilson presents a balanced and complete argument for both sides of the dilemma. Roosevelt want his share of the American Dream, so does Mame. Harmond’s ethics demand that he defends principle over wealth. Elder Barlow and Sterling Johnson feels they must defend their rights. See this wonderful (and at times funny) drama to witness a great American playwright at the top of his craft. Radio Golf is superbly written and effectively performed – especially by Antoine Pierre Whitfield, David Adams and Michael Pogue.
August Wilson’s balanced and totally honest presentation of the struggles of the emerging African-American entrepreneurs as to what is in the best interests as public capitalism verses private individual’s right conflict. What roles does ethics and social morality play in urban planning? This play is still relevant today. And, it is terrific theatre. Get to Raven Theatre to tee-off to a wonderful play.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: February 27, 2011
For full show information, check out the Radio Golf page at Theatre In Chicago.
At Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark Street, Chicago, IL, call 773-338-2177, www.raventheatre.com, tickets $30, Thursdays thryu Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 2 hours, 15 minutes with intermission, through April 9, 2011