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Pittsburgh by Ann Miner


Radio Golf

Radio Golf
Alfred H. Wilson and Morocco Omari
Radio Golf is chronologically the final play in August Wilson's ten-play Pittsburgh Cycle. The play had a brief Broadway run in 2007 and, as with the other plays in the series, has become a regional theatre staple. Set in the Hill District in 1997 on Jack Magaw's authentic set of a makeshift office, the Public Theater's production has settled in comfortably at the O'Reilly Theater.

Hammond Wilks (Morocco Omari), a lawyer and budding mayoral candidate, and Roosevelt Hicks (E. Milton Wheeler), recently promoted to vice president at Mellon Bank, are friends on the verge of a venture of a lifetime—engineering the redevelopment of the all-but-officially-blighted neighborhood, complete with Starbucks, Whole Foods and Barnes & Noble. Wilks has secure the necessary properties, and the pair await the official declaration of blightedness in order to secure the federal funding needed to begin the project. But politics and heritage collide as Elder Joseph Barlow (Alfred H. Wilson) enters Wilks' life and connects him to an important past he didn't realize he had, involving the soon to be demolished old house at 1839 Wylie Avenue. Bedford Hills Redevelopment, Inc.'s planned gentrification of the Hill District soon begins to crumble.

Those familiar with the other Wilson plays will note familiar characters and stories told by Barlow, who is almost otherworldly as he influences Wilks in a most profound way. Hicks is unaffected; his love of golf overrides his responsibilities at the bank, as he enters into a deal with an unseen partner for a radio show about the sport. There is a parallel between Wilks' dilemma and Hicks' ambition, as both have been placed in a position where they are to sacrifice their history in return for upward mobility.

The story plays out a bit messily as Wilks too quickly and neatly does his about face. As of the last preview, Omari hadn't quite nailed the role, but he showed the potential to connect with the audience. The character of Hicks is much clearer, which makes for a stand-out opportunity for Wheeler, whose wiry and energetic approach bring Hicks vividly to life. Tyla Abercrumbie fills the role of Wilks' wife Mame well; Mame is as bright and forward-looking as her husband is at the beginning of the play, but she stays on that path. Montae Russell does a great job as Sterling Johnson, Wilks' high school friend who has taken a far different road (yet is wiser than his "successful" friend in a fundamental way). The playwright has imbued Johnson with the heart and appeal that perhaps, at least a little, could have been assigned to the main character. Alfred H. Wilson is perfectly charming as Elder Joseph Barlow. The expected monologues are present, and they provide depth to the play. Director Ron OJ Parson guides the production with skill.

Radio Golf is an interesting contemporary story on its own. For Wilson enthusiasts, the threading together of people and places from earlier plays will add interest.

Radio Golf continues through November 2 at the O'Reilly Theater. For performance and ticket information, call 412-316-1600 or visit www.ppt.org or the box office.


Photo: Ric Evans


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-- Ann Miner

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