Play: Radio Golf
Group: St. Louis Black Repertory Company
Venue: Grandel Theatre, 3610 Grandel Square
Dates: Thursdays through Sundays through March 9
Tickets: From $33 to $43, plus student rush tickets of $10 and $20 Friday specials; contact 314-534-3810
Story: Like most of the tales in his 10-play cycle of the African-American experience in the 20th century, this final work chronologically in that unit by playwright August Wilson is set in Pittsburgh’s Hill district. It’s 1997, and Harmond Wilks, an Ivy League educated attorney and scion to a legendary area family, is set to declare his candidacy to become Pittsburgh’s first black mayor. At the center of his campaign is an urban redevelopment project that will bring a multimillion dollar residential and retail development to the economically depressed area.
Unfortunately, he meets resistance by a wily old resident, Elder Joseph Barlow, who claims that the legendary, 327-year-old Aunt Esther once lived in the ramshackle building Barlow wants to preserve. Harmond’s wife, Mame, and his business partner, Roosevelt Hicks, want progress to triumph, while a local handyman, Sterling Johnson, sides with Barlow. Will Hicks sacrifice his personal ambitions to revere history?
Highlights: As with all of Wilson’s works in this ambitious and extremely polished series, Radio Golf crackles with dialogue that sounds for the most part natural and genuine. It also blends realism with the spiritual mysteries embodied by the references to Aunt Esther, the cynosure character with mythical qualities in Gem of the Ocean, the other bookend work in Wilson’s cycle.
Erik Kilpatrick steals the Black Rep production as the rambling Elder Barlow, whose unswerving devotion to a house that’s been abandoned for several years represents the will of a faction of the community underestimated by Wilks. Kilpatrick also takes full advantage of the play’s most humorous opportunities.
Andre Sills, last month’s Othello, brings a believable interpretation to Wilks, blending the educated man’s appreciation of success with a genuine desire to help the residents of the neighborhood of his mostly comfortable youth. Darryl Alan Reed, a cunning Iago in that Othello production, effectively plays Hicks as a black man who wants to participate in the American capitalistic system as fully as his white counterparts at the local country club, even using his connections to be the minority front for a group that purchases a radio station where avid golfer Hicks provides weekly tips on improving one’s game on the links.
Other Info: A.C. Smith brings humor and savvy to the role of the handyman, but for whatever reason he rushed too many lines on opening night, to the point he was often difficult to understand. As Mame, Bianca LaVerne Jones is saddled with a weakly written character and just isn’t able to do much with the limited role. Lorna Littleway’s direction is unobtrusive, allowing her players to capture the rhythms of the dialogue as best they can, but the pacing is too often bogged down by complete halts between scenes.
Technically, Harlan Penn’s set design nicely conveys the look of a downtrodden neighborhood with graffiti-adorned walls that border the rundown office that is being repainted for Hicks’ new campaign headquarters, with lighting provided by Jim Burwinkel. Drew Matney offers some whimsical moments via his musical selection, and Karen Perry’s costumes fit the gamut of characters.
Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.