“Radio Golf” – Black Theatre Troupe

This review aired on KBAQ October 6, 2014


Black Theatre Troupe, Helen K. Mason Performing Arts Center
Phoenix, AZ

Playwright August Wilson wrote a ten play cycle about the struggles and development of the Black community in Pittsburgh’s Hill District during each decade of the 20th century.  The last of the cycle, “Radio Golf,” premiered in 2005 just before Wilson passed away.

“Radio Golf” is not the cycle’s best play and it doesn’t end the Hill District’s evolution on a positive note.  In fact, “Radio Golf” suggests the Black community’s struggle flounder to a languid ending.  Is this really what Wilson hoped to convey?  Many thought his intent was to show Black society on the verge of major changes.

Wilson’s other plays in his historic documentary are more probing and are more interesting historically.  They are filled with interesting characters that break from the confining and restrictive history as they push American society to acknowledge and accept the evolving and unique Black experience.

In “Radio Golf,” Harmond Wilks, a developer and Black mayoral candidate, tries to redevelop the Hill District without regard to the community’s rich past.  Wilks’ new black community is patterned after white communities.  He seems to care nothing about the Hill District’s evolution or how it represents Black culture.  Wilks’ efforts are stymied by Elder Joseph Barlow who refuses to sell, vacate, or leave his family’s homestead because all Wilks wants to do is bulldoze the past.  Wilks can’t make anything happen without Barlow’s property.

Thank goodness for Barlow’s steadfast determination to block Wilks’ project as he pushes the developer to build on the past by preserving some of the original community.  Even Wilks’ wife, Mame, hopes to preserve some of the past.  So Wilson’s last play of his historic cycle paints a Black community who change by becoming a clone of white culture.  Not the most entrancing viewpoint.

On top of the middling play, the Black Theatre Troupe production isn’t remarkable.  Only Lillie Richardson’s thoughtful and perceptive Mame and T. A. Burrows’ comic but insightful Barlow provides performances with the necessary depth.  Especially disappointing is Kwane Vedrene’s Harmond who drifts through the play bringing no real conviction to his character and Calion Maston as Roosevelt, Wilks assistant, who is so bland that he never lights the discussion on fire.  David J. Hemphill’s (hemp els) staging plods and drags unnecessarily so the play lacks the spirit that would make it more interesting.

Black Theatre Troupe fails to give August Wilson’s weak conclusion to his historic look at the Pittsburgh’s Black community’s development any stature.  The play continues through Sunday, October 12.  For tickets, call the Black Theatre Troupe box office at 602-258-8129 or order online at www.blacktheatretroupe.org.

Grade: D