Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Radio Golf"

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note: entire contents copyright 2006 by Larry Stark

"Radio Golf"

by August Wilson
Directed by Kenny Leon

Scenic Design by David Gallo
Costume Design by Susan Hilferty
Lighting Design by Donald Holder
Sound Design by Dan Moses Schreier
Composer Kathryn Bostic
Dramaturg Todd Kreidler
Casting by Harriet Bass and Laura Stanczyk
Production Stage Manager Marion Friedman
Stage Manager Eileen Ryan Kelly

Mame Wilks........Michole Briana White
Harmond Wilks...........Hassan El-Amin
Roosevelt Hicks......James A. Williams
Sterling Johnson.......John Earl Jelks
Elder Joseph Barlow...Anthony Chisholm

The last of August Wilson's ten-play cycle --- one for each decade of the 20th century --- is set in 1997, and involves the clash of ethics with politics as a successful Black real-estate tycoon (Hassan El-Amin) tries to run for mayor of Pittsburg. In classic tragic terms, "Radio Golf" sets a protagonist against corner-cutting and compromise, and watches him lose what he holds most dear: The companionship of his young wife (Michole Briana White), the help of his oldest friend (James A. Williams), his honest shot at making public office a chance for changes --- everything but his own self-respect.

The real-estate broker's main claim to office is a multi-use office/housing complex with federal backing, with one old hold-out property owner (Anthony Chisholm) derailing the project. His attempts to fulfill all his promises, but also to do it right, satisfies no one.

The characters boil down here to two pairs of Black men. The hero tries in every way to make it with his integrity intact. His life-long friend is willing to compromise and conspire --- for instance acting as the 20% minority-owner of a profitable radio station that rich Whites want to buy. (He does, at least, get to host his own weekly program about --- his beloved Golf.) Their diverging ethics sets their friendship on a collision course.

Contrasting with these richer, upwardly-mobile mover/shakers are two "niggers" --- struggling with set-backs and poverty. One accepts the necessity of doing whatever is possible, including fraud and larceny; the other forms his own small reconstruction-company. These two are the earthy philosophers familiar in August Wilson's crowds of sharply delineated character-types.

There is a golf metaphor here: The object is to play the game, within the rules, in such a way as to satisfy one's own mastery while still beating competitors. The trouble is life, especially for Blacks in America, often changes the rules before the game is over.

This particular play is written mainly as a series of what in another art would be called "arias": characters launch into long, pithily eloquent speeches that are not monologues, but through which the other actor on stage must listen, unmoving and oddly sidelined, until a chance comes to reverse the situation. One character wonders why a Black mayor can't be a Black people's mayor, since Whites ignore Black citizens when given the chance. Another nails the precise dates of every major event in his long lifetime. Others argue over what money and power are for, or whether integrity is a luxury for someone hoping to be elected.

In every case, the actors here are solidly in-character, explosively emotional, and aware --- like the audience --- that politics and integrity, sincerity and compromise are on everyone's minds this election season. The problem of being mayor of All the people, the gritty truths learned in "the college of hard knocks", and the conflicting demands of leadership and success all jostle against one another here, and the race is often to the swift rather than to the honest. Wilson's themes are stated in Black idiom, but are relevent --- particularly in this election season --- to everyone.


"Radio Golf" (8 September - 15 October)
264 Huntington Avenue, BOSTON MA

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