There was a slight melancholy in the air as the audience ushered into The Greene Space for the 10th and final installation of the August Wilson Cycle as recorded by New York Public Radio. Over the last month, many proud and dedicated theatre artists have gathered to celebrate the work of this late great playwright. For years to come, audiences will be able to appreciate the genius of this unsung hero.
Many people collaborated to produce this wonderful event. The evening began with Executive Producer Indira Etwaroo welcoming the crowd with a moving speech. She delivered a heartfelt thank you as well as gifts to the vital players responsible for bringing the Century Cycle to fruition! Then came the show. A modest cast of five entered the stage to thunderous applause. The audience was flooded with theatre heavyweights, including Phylicia Rashad beaming in the front row!
Radio Golf is a fast-paced, dynamic and wonderfully funny work about the world today and the dreams we have for the future (Radiogolfonbroadway.com). Though it takes place in 1997, the story is highly relevant to audiences today. It’s the story of a successful entrepreneur who aspires to become Pittsburgh’s first black mayor. Dealing with such oddities as blacks in politics and blacks on the golf course (interests typically thought of as “white”), Act 1 takes on a humorous and light-hearted tone.
Harmond Wilkes is our hero and the glue that holds the story together. He is a warm and intelligent man who truly wants to do what’s best for the people of Pittsburgh. He finds himself caught in a moral dilemma as a black man running for office. Of course behind every great man there is a great woman. His wife Mame, also a political mover and shaker, was played by Eisa Davis with charm and strength. Though this play opened in 2005, long before the notion of having a black president was even conceivable, this couple strongly resembles our current President and First Lady. Like Barack and Michelle, Harmond and Mame are the righteous do-gooder types.
Eugene Lee as Sterling, the dimwitted ex-con, was particularly hilarious in this production. Sterling is also, ironically, the voice of moral justice. His character keeps it so real, while being equal parts silly and no nonsense. Conversely, Roosevelt’s moral center is virtually nonexistent. Representing the “kind of negro” willing to not only assimilate, but sell out himself and his best friend, in order to get ahead. In doing so, he tramples over the old and helpless Elder Joseph Barlow (played beautiful by Anthony Chisholm), who is fighting against a system that does not have his back. His character has one of my favorite lines: “White folks don’t be a burden on their kids. If you white and your daddy die you get some money. If you black you get a bill from the undertaker.”
Sterling asked Harmond, “You get to be mayor, is you gonna be mayor of the black folks or the white folks?” and Harmond’s reply is, “I’m going to be the mayor of everybody. It’s not about being white or black, it’s about being American.” The play may have been set in the 1990’s but some of the lines sounded as though they were ripped from yesterday’s headlines. The material was so relevant and
controversial in fact, that it was at times challenging to sit through. During one particular scene, when Sterling argues the difference between a “Negro” and “a N*gga,” I became keenly aware that I was surrounded by white audience members. Just as I’m certain many of them suddenly felt isolated. I was reminded that theatre is very much a communal experience and strong playwrights are able to evoke deep emotion from their listeners. Everyone in the audience this night seemed deeply effected by Wilson’s storytelling!
Radio Golf first performed in 2005 at the Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut and had its Broadway premiere in 2007 at the Cort Theatre. It was originally directed by Kenny Leon and featured Harry Lenix and Tonya Pinkins. This production at The Greene Space was directed by the incomparable Marion McClinton. Interesting to note, she incorporated
excerpts from music of the time, such as Usher’s “You Make Me Wanna” and En Vogue’s “You’re Never Gonna Get It.” Whether it was the contemporary time period or the subject matter, I found this Wilson piece particularly compelling!
Fun fact: August Wilson’s recurring character of Aunt Esther is spoken of in Radio Golf, bringing the plot of his first play full circle!
Also The Century Cycle artwork provided by designer Hollis King is being quilted together and held at The Greene Space as an exhibit to preserve his work!
All of us at Arts in Color would like to thank The Greene Space and those involved with producing the Century Cycle. Through your tireless efforts, history has truly been made!