The last play in August Wilson’s cycle of Pittsburgh plays, Radio Golf, is set in 1997, at a time when the city’s black upper-middle class is enjoying both economic good fortune and the prospect of genuine political power. The parallels between protagonist Harmond Wilks—African-American real estate developer and aspiring mayoral candidate—and the Current Occupant are emphasized in this production, right down to a Shepard Fairey-inspired campaign poster. Yet , inasmuch as Wilks’s fortunes rise and fall on the basis of some illicit real property transactions, he more closely resembles the more self-destructive President from his own decade.
Walter Coppage’s Wilks, empowered to the point of smugness, as well as the rest of the cast, seem pinned down by the staging in this production: there’s too much of a feel of “this is where I stand for my monologue.” Some transitions are forced: characters change the topic of conversation for apparently no reason. At least that’s the case until the electrifying closing scene when all of Wilks’s deals fall apart and Coppage gets to cut loose.
Easily stealing the show is Frederick Strother in the chewy comic role of “Elder” Joseph Barlow, a shuffling street person who resists Wilks and partner’s attempts to gentrify his Hill District neighborhood.
- Radio Golf, by August Wilson, directed by Ron Himes, The Studio Theatre, Washington