Radio Golf, the late August Wilson’s 10th play of his incredible cycle of dramas documenting African-American life during the turbulent 20th century, receives its Midwest premiere at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre this month. Like the Goodman’s other nine Wilson productions, Radio Golf is a chance to experience exceptional contemporary theater without the Broadway expenses.
Radio Golf begins in 1997 in the office of the Hill District Redevelopment Agency and soon-to-be campaign headquarters for mayoral candidate Harmon Wilks, the first
African-American to seriously run for Pittsburgh’s highest city office. Wilks’ wife, Mame, and old college friend, Roosevelt Hicks, are his closest advisors and realize their dream of professional success is just within their grasp.
Director Kenny Leon guides a cast
of five marvelous performers, lead by Hassan El-Amin, Michole Briana White and James A. Williams, as the Wilks and Hicks,
as the play explores many of the critical issues of recent Black empowerment and the
not so smooth settlement into the middle class. The overcoming of inevitable racist barriers, striving tenaciously for Black entrepreneurship, maintaining old traditions and values, while not just blending with those of the Caucasian elite, and not compromising personal self-respect, pride and integrity are all themes of this remarkable tale.
The main focus of Wilson’s narrative is the planned redevelopment of the once vibrant, now run-down African-American Hill District. Wilks and his advisors have planned a large retail and apartment complex on the central site of once blighted urban landscape. But the development agency’s plan runs into trouble when a local vagrant, Elder Joseph Barlow, claims an old house scheduled for demolition is his family’s property and that he has the legitimate deed for the property.
Wilson’s dialogue is a mix of sharp topical humor and ethnic wit, and the scenes in Act 2 are especially emotional as Wilks balances the advice of his slick advisor friend with what he knows to be right. And despite one key plot flaw, related to the lawyers’ handling of land and property deeds, Radio Golf deals with these powerful, personal and social issues, much in the way of Henrik Ibsen’s classic An Enemy of the People.
Featured actors, Anthony Chisholm as Elder Barlow and John Earl Jelks as Sterling Johnson, round off the cast, presenting the unique working class perspectives to counter the need for complete community improvements.
Radio Golf runs at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre, at 170 N. Dearborn Street until Feb. 25, before it moves to New York for a potential Broadway run in April. For ticket information contact the Goodman Theatre at 312-443-3800, or online at www.goodmantheatre.org.