Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Also see Susan's recent review of Incendiary
Director Reginald L. Douglas understands the power of Wilson's language in his production of Radio Golf at Round House Theatre in Bethesda, Maryland, and he has gathered five accomplished performers in a timely story about success, authenticity, and whether it's possible to accomplish both at once.
Radio Golf is Wilson's final play in the cycle, both chronologically (premiered the year before he died) and in its setting (Pittsburgh, 1997), but its themes and characters have connections that go back to the beginning of the last century. The story concerns the building of a legacy, the decisions of what must remain and what has to be let go. (Interestingly, another play currently running in Washington–Good Bones at Studio Theatre–considers similar ideas from a more individual perspective.)
Harmond Wilks (JaBen Early) is a second-generation real estate agent and developer in Pittsburgh, and he wants to be the next mayor. He's determined to bring prosperity to the historic but crumbling Hill District by building apartments and introducing national retail (Whole Foods, Starbucks, Barnes & Noble), all of which would gentrify the neighborhood and probably dispossess the long-term residents. His wife Mame (Renee Elizabeth Wilson) is a political consultant currently employed by the governor of Pennsylvania. His business partner Roosevelt Hicks (Ro Boddie) is a bank vice president who, through his love of golf (specifically Tiger Woods), believes that unchallenged excellence can defeat bigotry.
The drama proceeds from the arrival of two longtime Hill residents: Sterling Johnson (Kevin Mambo), a scrappy self-employed construction worker; and Elder Joseph Barlow (Craig Wallace), whose family owned a house slated for demolition. "Old Joe" is easily the most entertaining character, and Wallace finds every nuance as Old Joe recounts pieces of his almost 80-year life, his regrets, his beliefs, and his family's central role in the life of the Hill. While his performance is frequently hilarious, Wallace never loses the determination of his character to prevent the erasure of history.
Meghan Raham's scenic design enlivens a fairly bare-bones office scene with a sweeping backdrop of old buildings and construction sites. Moyenda Kulemeka's costumes range from Mame's classy suits in vivid colors, with matching high-heeled pumps, and Harmond and Roosevelt's sleek business attire to Sterling's work clothes and Old Joe's worn cardigan and beat-up hat.
Radio Golf runs through July 2, 2023, at Round House Theatre, 4545 East-West Highway, Bethesda MD. For tickets and information, please call 240-644-1100 or visit www.roundhousetheatre.org.
By August Wilson