With Radio Golf, the tenth and final piece of his play cycle chronicling the African-American experience in the 20th century, August Wilson shows that he has a rough, loud, persistent and most gorgeous whisper. Director Lorna Littleway and a phenomenal cast have given a texture and a timbre to Wilson's voice that bewitches and dazzles — and inspires. How often do you leave the theater feeling not only that you've been transformed, but that you — you — could transform the world? The Black Rep's production of Radio Golf is a valedictory for the last century and a rallying cry for this one.
Andre Sills brings the perfect blend of pomposity and affability to Harmond. He has the florid cadence of a man who practices speeches in the bathroom mirror, and he expounds on the loyalty of dogs with the same gravitas he employs while rhapsodizing about urban renewal. Molded by his father to achieve a vaguely defined greatness, Harmond believes wholeheartedly in "the plan." But he doesn't really have much sense of what "the plan" means, to him or to anyone else.
Harmond's mercenary business partner, Roosevelt Hicks (Darryl Alan Reed), is far more pragmatic. A successful banker and a golf fanatic, Roosevelt measures life in terms of financial success. Reed plays Roosevelt with a salty shrewdness; he's a man who is painfully aware that he needs to have business cards while on the golf course lest white people assume he's a caddy. But the money, in great loads of it, is Roosevelt's reward for such slights, so he weathers them. He and Harmond stand to reap huge dividends once they raze the Hill District and rebuild it as a modern retail and residential community. All they have left to do is destroy one dilapidated house, 1839 Wiley Avenue, the onetime home of Aunt Esther. Astute Wilson students will recognize the home as the spiritual locus of the Hill District, but even a first-timer senses that this house is the identity of the neighborhood — and also the soul of black America.
That soul's paladin is Sterling, played with bluff affability by A.C. Smith. Proud, and sensitive about appearing dumb, Sterling takes great pains to explain to Harmond that there are no shades of gray in matters of the soul. He and Roosevelt fight The Argument — what's a negro, what's a nigger — with volcanic intensity, snuffing all the air out of the room. Neither wins. But both stand as men when it's over — able to live on and prove the other wrong. Their epic battle underlines the one flaw of Wilson's final play: the lack of a female perspective. As Harmond's wife, Mame, Bianca LaVerne Jones delivers a polished and engaging performance, but she's really only there to support Harmond. Jones and Sills have one warm and life-affirming scene together, but Mame has little bearing on the outcome of Radio Golf.
That outcome is decided by Harmond alone — alone being the key word. Free of the past, free of his father's expectations, free of guilt, free of all obligations except to his own heart, Harmond is ready to address the world. And you can't help but listen to him.
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