Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
Not all of the 10 plays are equally strong, but Radio Golf is certainly one of the richest. It illuminates the divide between the economically rising black middle class and those being left behind, including a jarring look at the compromises necessary to climb the ladder of success. It is the story of Harmond Wilks, his wife Mame, and his business partner Roosevelt Hicks as they prepare to launch an urban renewal project in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where nine of the Century Cycle plays are set. Representing those in danger of being left behind are local handyman Sterling Johnson and Elder Joseph Barlow.
Director Mark Clayton Southers has been responsible for several of American Stage's more successful entries in the cycle, The Piano Lesson and Ma Raney's Black Bottom, as well as a fine production of The Sty of the Blind Pig by Banyan Theater last summer. He draws excellent performances from his cast. Alan Bomar Jones as Harmond and Kim Sullivan as Roosevelt have been stalwarts of American Stage's August Wilson productions and they continue their excellent work. Chrystal Bates as Mame is new to the theater but not the part, having played it in 2013 at Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company, presumably under the direction of Mr. Southers. She draws on that experience to deliver a performance that shows us both the character's drive to get ahead and also her deep love for her husband. As Sterling, ranny delivers another nuanced performance after last year's award winning turn (Outstanding Featured Actor, Theater Tampa Bay Award) as Hambone in Wilson's Two Trains Running. Anthony Chisholm played the role of Elder Joseph Barlow on Broadway and received a Tony Nomination as Best Supporting Actor in a Play. Repeating that role here, he is perfect in every way, especially physically.
Besides drawing such fine performances from his cast, Mark Clayton Southers understands the issues in this play and how to make them more vivid for his audiences. He resides in the Hill District, knows the people that August Wilson modeled some of the characters on as well as how the community members relates to each other, all of which make this production crackle.
American Stage plays what was written as a three-act play in two acts, probably as a time restraint. Unfortunately, the play is structured with two clear act endings, so the flow is just a bit off. Scenic design by Steve Mitchell shows us an office building past its glory days. Lighting design by Joseph P. Oshry is effective, and costume design by Saidah Ben-Judah is mostly drawn from the actors' own wardrobes and doesn't always accurately convey the period. Property design/scenic dressing by Jerid Fox is excellent, including posters for a radio station that is an integral part of the plot and for Harmond's planned mayoral campaign which are brilliantly executed.
This is one of the strongest productions of an August Wilson play I have seen at American Stage, partly because of the strong script and partly because of the vivid direction and acting.
Radio Golf at American Stage Theatre Company, through February 22, 2015, 163 Third Street North, St. Petersburg. For more information, visit www.americanstage.org.
Cast (in order of appearance):
Direction: Mark Clayton Southers