African-American playwright August Wilson’s last play, Radio Golf (2005), set in 1997 in the poverty-stricken Hill District of Pittsburgh, PA, proves to be a splendid season-opener for Deep Dish Theater Company, thanks to superb staging by guest director Kathryn Hunter-Williams and the compelling characterizations of an unusually energetic and expressive acting ensemble, led by critically acclaimed Raleigh actor, director, and dramatist Mike Wiley.
Radio Golf is one from the heart for director Kathryn Hunter-Williams and star Mike Wiley, who smoothly slips beneath the skin of Ivy League-educated real-estate developer and would-be Pittsburgh mayor Harmond Wilks. Wilks’ well-intentioned Bedford Hills Redevelopment Project is designed to provide housing and jobs for some of the downtrodden residents of the Hill, as well as bringing upscale retail establishments, such as stores like Barnes & Noble, Starbucks, and Whole Foods to the neighborhood where Wilks grew up.
But there’s a holdout homeowner – intransigent long-time Hill District resident Elder Joseph Barlow (played superbly by Warren Keyes as a crusty contrarian whose obstinance knows no bounds) — who refuses to sell Wilks’ company his home at 1839 Wylie Ave., which was formerly owned by August Wilson’s magnificent Hill District matriarch Aunt Ester, a wise woman and “washer of souls,” who claimed to be hundreds of years old. Whatever Harmond is selling, Old Joe ain’t buying; and he delights in stepping on Wilks’ very last nerve. Indeed, their animated arguments are but one of many delights of the verbal sparring in Radio Golf.
Also creating unforgettable characters that add snap, crackle, and pop to this Deep Dish production are Hazel S. Edmond as Harmond Wilks’ wife, Mame, an ambitious public relations professional angling to obtain a prestigious job on the staff of the Governor of Pennsylvania; Nilan Johnson as Harmond’s former college roommate and current business partner Roosevelt Hicks, a Mellon Bank vice president and avid golfer; and Phillip Bernard Smith as feisty neighborhood handyman and self-employed building contractor Sterling Johnson, who fearlessly confronts Harmond Wilks and boldly provokes his ire by publicly championing Old Joe’s cause every chance he gets.
In Radio Golf, the old Clare Boothe Luce adage “No good deed goes unpunished” comes true with a vengeance as well-meaning Harmond Wilks, who sees himself as a do-gooder extending a hand to the down-and-out of the Hill unexpectedly provokes a fire storm when he tries to acquire Aunt Esther’s old house, now occupied by Old Joe. When Wilks suggests a compromise, Old Joe rejects it; and so does Wilks’ money-hungry business partner Roosevelt Hicks — who like Wilks stands to lose a fortune if the project loses any of its illustrious chain-store tenants or implodes completely.
Radio Golf transforms Harmond Wilks’ storefront office – vividly recreated by Rob Hamilton — into a dandy cockpit for five argumentative souls. But it also provides a fine forum where the pluses and minuses of community redevelopment can be debated, no holds barred. Deep Dish patrons may leave the theater with a fresh, new understanding of one of the major problems plaguing American cities from sea to shining sea.
SECOND OPINION: Aug. 29th Durham, NC Independent Weekly review by Byron Woods (who awarded the show 4 of 5 stars): http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/a-strong-revival-of-august-wilsons-final-play/Content?oid=3136112; Aug. 28th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/2012/08/27/2297196/wilsons-radio-golf-resonates.html; and Aug. 17th Durham, NC Herald-Sun preview by Cliff Bellamy: http://www.heraldsun.com/view/full_story/19815110/article-Play–exhibit-pay-tribute-to-Nina-Simone (Note: You must register first to read this article). (Note: To read Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s online version of Triangle Theater Review’s Aug. 22nd preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2012/08/deep-dish-theater-company-kicks-off-season-12-aug-24th-with-august-wilsons-final-play-radio-golf/.)
Deep Dish Theater Company presents RADIO GOLF at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 30, 8 p.m. Aug. 31 and Sept. 1, 2 p.m. Sept. 2; 7:30 p.m. Sept. 5 and 6, 8 p.m. Sept. 7 and 8, 2 p.m. Sept. 9, 7:30 p.m. Sept. 12 and 13, and 8 p.m. Sept. 14 and 15 in its performance space between The Print Shop and the Public Library at the Dillard’s end of University Mall, at the intersection of Estes Dr. and U.S. 15-501, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27514.
TICKETS: $21 ($14 students and $19 seniors), except $2 discount Wednesdays and Thursdays for adults.
BOX OFFICE: 919-968-1515 or http://www.etix.com/.
NOTE 1: At 7 p.m. on Friday, August 31st, there will be a preshow “Meet the Play” talk.
NOTE 2: There will be post-performance discussions on Sunday, Sept. 2nd (with the cast and Chapel Hill Council Member Donna Bell) and on Thursday, Sept. 6th (a Meet the Designers discussion with the production staff).
NOTE 3: The Deep Dish Book Selection, Home by Toni Morrison, will be discussed at 7 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 10th, at Flyleaf Books (http://www.flyleafbooks.com/), 752 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, Chapel Hill, NC 27514.
The Play: http://www.radiogolfonbroadway.com/ (official Broadway website) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radio_Golf (Wikipedia).
Study Guide: http://www.syracusestage.org/studyguides/1011season/Radio Golf.pdf (Syracuse Stage).
The Playwright: http://www.augustwilson.net/ (AugustWilson.net) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/August_Wilson (Wikipedia).
The Director: http://www.playmakersrep.org/aboutus/artist.aspx?id=6ad10439-2e0c-4017-b4f3-4ca3dae6dc9c (PlayMakers Repertory Company).
Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.
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To read all of Robert W. McDowell’s Triangle Theater Review previews and reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/robert-w-mcdowell/.