When I first heard about Radio Golf, it was from my excited editor of this fine newspaper. So ecstatic was he about this play, without hesitation, I agreed to review it for you readers.
From that moment, until I entered the theater, the general consensus had been that Radio Golf is an extraordinary play. After spending two and a half hours watching the play myself, I was leaning toward a disagreement.
After the play, I took stock of the events that played before me. I also researched the writer of the play. Here is what I came up with:
August Wilson, a famous black playwright who won two Pulitzer Prizes, wrote Radio Golf. It was the last of his Hill District of Pittsburgh saga. This saga includes 10 plays, by the way. Wilson’s works are so revered and well-known throughout the country that he has streets named after him and a Broadway venue dubbed The August Wilson Theater. It’s the
only Broadway theater named after an African American.
Taking into account the general theater public’s utter love for August Wilson, I can see how the Mosaic Theater (where Radio Golf is being performed) can be packed with patrons, mostly older white people, and have such great word of mouth. Taking into consideration the way Wilson weaves all of his 10 Pittsburgh plays together, Radio Golf seems like a masterpiece. However, I felt myself wanting something.
Wilson’s writing of Golf is entertaining. There’s a lot of ham-bone scenery chewing, but it’s sort of comical. However, as a Wilson neophyte and Millennial, I couldn’t seem to wrap my head around this play. Sure, it’s the last one in the series, so I’ve missed out on the entire back story. But, the play seemed to lack verve. I found myself entertained, but not laughing at the joke in the ham-bone buffoonery that is Elder Joseph Barlow (played by John Archie) and Sterling Johnson (W. Paul Bodie).
This play seems to lack some life. The main character is Harmond Wilks (Summer Hill Seven). Seven is in every scene, and seems to be tired of being in them. He gives his all in the play, don’t get me wrong. But, I wanted to see more fire from him. His character is a man who is trying to make a good name for himself to become the first black mayor of
Pittsburgh, while simultaneously rebuilding a forgotten neighborhood. His lofty ideals are admirable, but Seven seems to be subdued in his portrayal as the wunderkind that is going to save the poor Hills District.
In Radio Golf, Harmond and his partner Roosevelt Hicks (Robert Strain) are about to break ground on a new development that would improve the quality of life for the residents and ex-residents of the Hills District; which has been long forgotten by many. Harmond is going to use the development as leverage to become the next mayor of Pittsburgh. All he has to do is follow the plan. Unfortunately, another plan finds him. Through sheer bad luck, Harmond unwittingly ends up making an illegal deal, and decides to take the high road. This upsets all involved in the development plan. One by one, all of the people who once stood behind Harmond turn their backs on him. The saving grace of the play is that when his people turn on him, Harmond has a rebirth and Seven is a breath of fresh air. Unfortunately, that’s the end of the play.
Speaking of a breath of fresh air, Lela Elam as Mame Wilks, Harmond’s wife, is always a sight for sore eyes on the stage. Her portrayal of a smart business woman and backbone for her husband is energizing. She brings life on stage with her. Archie also had his moments of entertainment to keep things lively. As the not-quite-right old man, Archie is comical from the moment he enters a scene. He’s got great comedic timing and plays the old man quite well. The only other lively actor on the stage is Bodie. His Sterling is foul-mouthed and a little twisted, but he’s real and relatable.
Strain’s character is a loathsome man so blinded by money, power and golf he can’t tell when he’s being used as a black puppet by a man who could care less about him. Strain’s performance seemed a little overplayed. In theater, there is some overacting at play, because the people in the back need to be able to see the action. But, in a small theater, such live action is not necessary.
As far as director Richard Jay Simon, he did the best he could with his actors. I don’t agree with all of his blocking, but they are well-placed and convey their meanings without missing a beat. I’m sure August Wilson would be proud of Radio Golf of if he were still alive today.
All in all, the play is an honest look at race relations, honesty, and loyalty to one’s people and community. I wasn’t as entertained as I expected to be, but I’m sure many of you readers would disagree.
So I admonish you to see for yourself how great or mediocre you think Radio Golf truly is. For its Florida premiere, Golf is seeing success. For this Wilson neophyte, I am intrigued and hope to see more of Wilson’s plays at the Mosaic Theater.
Photos by George Schiavone. Summer Hill Seven, left, and Lela Elam, right, in August Wilson’s Radio Golf.
IF YOU GO:
What: Performance of August Wilson’s Radio Golf.
Where: The Mosaic Theater, 12200 West Broward Blvd. (east of Flamingo Road), Plantation.
When: Through Sunday, Oct. 5, 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.
Matinees: Saturday at 3 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m.
Cost: $35 for adults, $29 for seniors, $15 for students
Contact: 954-57 STAGE (954-577-8243) or log onto www.mosaictheatre.com.