Sunday, February 25, 2018
Stage

Review: 'Radio Golf' brings August Wilson pros to American Stage

ST. PETERSBURG

Everyone in Radio Golf is good, quite good. But Anthony Chisholm, in his delivery, tone, posture and on and on, is astounding.

And no wonder. Elder Joseph Barlow is Chisholm's role, through and through. He received a Tony nomination for playing the character on Broadway. And fans of HBO's Oz will recognize him as prisoner Burr Redding.

It's a joy to have talent like his visit American Stage for the theater's eighth installment of August Wilson's Century Cycle. He's not alone in his impressive credentials. Radio Golf is packed with veterans of Wilson plays, making this long but meaningful work resonate with impact.

If you're new to the Century Cycle, there's no bad time to get on board. Wilson's set of 10 plays illuminate African-American experiences in the 20th century, from 1904 to 1997. Radio Golf is the last play Wilson wrote before his death.

Most of the cycle examines everyman characters living in the blighted Hill District, where Wilson grew up. Radio Golf stands out because it explores the complexities of upper class black life. Its nucleus is power, ambition, and what must be sacrificed to get there.

To wit: On one side of the set, there's a poster of Martin Luther King Jr. On the other side, a poster of Tiger Woods.

On the side of MLK, we have Harmond Wilks (Alan Bomar Jones), a Cornell-educated developer trying to rebuild Pittsburgh's Hill District with a Starbucks, Barnes & Noble and Whole Foods. He wants to be the city's first black mayor, and his wife, Mame, (Chrystal Bates) is helping him see to that.

On the side of Tiger Woods, we have Roosevelt Hicks (Kim Sullivan). He and Wilks have a yin-yang operation, Hicks pulled to glossy business ascent and Wilks pulled to his Hill District roots. They're friends, but Wilks doesn't hesitate to let Hicks know when he's being used as a tax credit, as the black front for the white establishment.

Standing in the way of their development plan is Barlow, a lovable old loon determined to keep his mother's house (fans of the Wilson cycle will recognize recurring mythical character Aunt Esther here, the spiritual compass for the Hill District).

Construction worker Sterling Johnson (played by single-named actor and comedian "ranney") pops into Wilks' office looking for work. A character you think is just comic relief ultimately delivers the biggest punch to the collective conscience.

Bates, who offers a gut wrenching monologue fraught with despair, boasts a very lengthy Wilson resume. She has a great romantic chemistry with Jones, who subtly transitions Harmond Wilks from unshakable big man to something more textured.

The cast is led by director Mark Clayton Southers, who personally knew Wilson and once led the theater program at the August Wilson Center for African-American Culture. His familiarity shows. You know Pittsburgh through these characters and this staging, even if you've never been there.

In Wilson's signature style, Radio Golf gets meandering and long-winded in places, running two hours and 45 minutes with intermission. The actors searched for their lines a handful of times, something that should smooth out for the run.

For any flaws, the cast and crew mirror their playwright. Their bones are solid and their hearts are clearly in it.

Contact Stephanie Hayes at [email protected] or (727) 893-8716. Follow @stephhayes.

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