Save the best for last is what comes to mind for this reviewer while digesting the exquisite script of the late August Wilson’s tenth and final installment in his series of plays called The Century Cycle.
This work, Radio Golf, like his other works in this cycle, is set in a real-world feel Black community – this, in his native Pittsburgh, when life after steel’s demise meant rapid gentrification here as elsewhere. Harmond Wilks (Allen Gilmore) is both running for mayor and working with his long-time close buddy and partner Roosevelt Hicks (James Vincent Meredith) to bring world-class development to this blighted corner of the city, replete with Starbucks, Whole Foods and Barnes and Noble. Wilk’s wife Mame, has taken a detour from her climb to the top and a role in the Governor’s office to assist her husband’s election. She sees a return to the past in her husband’s decrepit campaign office, while he admires the artistry of the tin ceiling work, portending a schism to come. Hicks also doesn’t think too much of the surrounds, keeping an ever-vigilant eye on his parked car and the danger and annoyances from the ne’er do wells of the ‘hood.
The locals, who think of Wilks as born with a silver spoon in his mouth, aren’t as keen as these three to give this part of Pittsburgh the makeover in the works.
In Wilson’s script, the two characters he has drawn to depict the lesser fortunates who aren’t poised to cash in on gentrification – Sterling Johnson (James T. Alfred) and elder Joseph Marlow (Alfred H. Wilson) --are CHARACTERS and in these able actors’ performances tend to steal every scene. From Sterling Johnson we learn the other N-word—“negro”—pronounced with a tone and inflection that tells you just about everything you need to know of his estimation of Wilks, Hicks and their like. Like a jester in a Shakespeare script, he is the truth teller and the one who tells it like it is. Wilson gives Johnson lines to wrap up most of the scenes, which prompts the audience to erupt in clapping during scene changes. This is but one moment of enthusiastic audience shout-outs and reactions to Wilson’s words. Most memorably, when there is a reference to how “…everyone, even the President of the United States, pays taxes…” there was an audible gasp in the room.
Comparisons to Shakespeare do not stop there. How interesting that the program interview with Director Ron OJ Parson zeros in on how he works with his actors to get them more into the rhythm of Wilson’s language, much as you hear of the special training Shakespearean actors strive for to bring the Bard’s word’s alive. More, like a Shakespearean play, the plot has layers and complexity.
Steeped with metaphors—the main one being the very title that those of us who lived through Tiger Woods’ early rise will likely experience quite differently than those who did not—the poetry of this script moves deep and deeper still.—at least for this writer, who now wants to get hands on the script for a much longer savor.
On one level this is a tale of gentrification—but that seems to be only the most surface of layers. As Sterling Johnson so aptly reminds- both the developers and we the audience- this is really a delve into the struggle between right and wrong.
There is much talk of how the Black community is being impacted by the ever shifting landscape where the center doesn’t hold. It’s Wilk’s journey to find his own center in his changing interior landscape that makes this play, in this writer’s opinion, a classic for the ages.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read — Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Playwright: August Wilson
Directed by: Ron OJ Parson
Cast: James T. Alfred (Sterling Johnson), Allen Gilmore (Harmond Wilks), Ann Joseph (Mame Wilks), James Vincent Meredith (Roosevelt Hicks), and Alfred H. Wilson (Elder Joseph Barlow)
Creative Team: Jack Magaw (scenic design), Rachel Anne Healy (costume design), Claire Chrzan (lighting design), and Christopher M. LaPorte (sound design).
Thru September 30, 2018
Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays 7:30 p.m.
Saturdays and Sundays - 2:00 p.m. & 7:30 p.m.
5535 S. Ellis Ave.