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TAG (The Actors’ Group) is again honoring Black History Month by staging an August Wilson play. Wilson (1945-2005) wrote ten plays reflecting the Black experience in America throughout the twentieth century, one per decade, called “The Pittsburgh Cycle.” Radio Golf is the last play he wrote, representing the decade of the 1990s, set in 1997 and first produced on Broadway in 2007, winning a Tony Nomination for best new play of that year.
The opening night standing-room-only audience was predominantly Black and it was clear they had a great time. Wilson shows us all the humor and tragedy of the Black experience, and the audience caught it all. But you do not have to be Black to enjoy this play: this is a show for everybody. Warning: I’m afraid I’m eventually going to have to use the N-word in this review, a word also frequently used in the play.
The protagonist of the play is Harmond Wilks, definitely a big fish in the Black community. He is the scion of a wealthy real estate developer, raised with a silver spoon in his mouth, and now a well-to-do entrepreneur about to tear down one area within the Hill District (the black neighborhood) of Pittsburgh and put up a shiny new complex called Bedford Hts. This involves big money and legal contracts.
That’s not all. He is also about to announce a run for Mayor of Pittsburgh, assisted by his go-getter wife, Mame, and his best friend Roosevelt Hicks. (During the Broadway run of this play who would not have been thinking about Hawai‘i’s own Barack Obama, who had just announced as a candidate for the presidency in February of that year? In fact one of Harmond’s campaign posters is a clever but anachronistic allusion to the famous “Hope” poster.)
There is one fly in the ointment, however, a garrulous old fool, Joseph Barlow, who claims HE holds the title to one of the houses about to be torn down. Then there is the handyman Sterling Johnson, who knew Harmond and Roosevelt way back when and who claims to be a Union member ready to work on their project. (Joseph and Sterling would be the “little fish” as far as Harmond and Roosevelt are concerned.)
Wilson makes you think about issues of class, education, feminism, prison, affirmative action, the value of a legal contract, and degree of blackness (as in who is a “nigger” versus who is a “negro”). The dialog is snappy and very funny; you will be rewarded if you listen hard to catch the changing dialects coming out of the different characters. The signal that Harmond and Roosevelt are upper middle class? They both play golf. First act posters are MLK–and Tiger Woods.
There is an important offstage character–a reminder that you may think you’re a big fish, but in someone else’s eyes, you’re just sharkbait. And as to the title of the play, it seems to me that trying to teach golf via a radio program epitomizes an impossible dream.
First-time Director Lillian Jones has done a great job of bringing out all the differences among the diverse characters. As Harmond Wilks, J. Edward Murray has all the well-educated liberal’s stuffiness. Derrick Brownas Roosevelt Hicks is the best friend looking for the main chance; he manages to convey all of Roosevelt’s personalities believably. Terry Bookhart shows us the upwardly mobile and practical Mame who is not moving back to the Hill District–no way.
Audience favorite Curtis Duncan as Joseph Barlow was maybe a little over the top, but who cares when his clowning is so much fun. Quantae Love as Sterling Johnson brought the needed menace and ferocity that keeps audience members wondering if and when he will explode.
Costumes were 90s right down to the choice of eyeglasses. Props to the set dressers for the right computers and cell phones.
I love it that TAG habitually tackles tough and interesting fare. Perhaps their biggest challenge is finding the audience who will appreciate and fund their efforts. This is definitely a show that will reward those who come to see it. Validated free parking at Dole Cannery.
Seeking a male actor who can play mid-20s for upcoming production. Professional compensation will be paid. Rehearsals begin in early December, break throughout January, and resume in February, 2014.…Continue
Started by Hawaii Repertory Theatre, Inc. Nov 17, 2013.