Some say Radio Golf has the lightest tone in August Wilson's famed Century Cycle. But it was the last play Wilson wrote before he died, and he was certainly not light on things to say. • In his 10-play cycle, Wilson illuminates the experiences of everyday African-American people. But in Radio Golf, he branches into new and significant territory. • "For the first time, he really taps into not the common man, but now he also deals with the so-called upper echelon of black life, with Ivy League developers and all that," said Mark Clayton Southers, directing Radio Golf at American Stage in St. Petersburg. "It's a different language."
Radio Golf opens at American Stage on Friday. Set in 1997, it tells the story of educated and ambitious Harmond Wilkes, involved with a building project in Pittsburgh's Hill District, where most of Wilson's cycle plays are set. There's a historic house in the way, bringing questions of demolition and ethics.
Radio Golf references real people in Pittsburgh, everyone from Wilson's longtime assistant to a well-known real estate family.
"Radio Golf was a breath of fresh air for Pittsburghers, because it dealt with a time period most Pittsburghers can relate to," Southers said.
Southers personally knew Wilson, who died in 2005. Southers is the former artistic director of the theater program at the August Wilson Center for African-American Culture in Pittsburgh. The center has closed amid financial strife, but community leaders are rallying to see it open again.
No matter the state of Wilson's home base, Southers said, it's heartening to see his work live on in theaters around the country. And the cycle has been consistently popular for American Stage.
"A lot of companies are tapping into the cycle because the audience really tunes in, and they go on this ride," Southers said.
Wilson's plays traverse from 1904 to 1997. American Stage has been on track to complete the whole cycle since first producing Gem of the Ocean in 2007.
In 2016, American Stage will present Wilson's Jitney, set in 1977. That leaves Joe Turner's Come and Gone, set in 1911, as the final play in the series. Here's a look back at the seven productions that came before Radio Golf:
2014: 2 Trains Running
Set in 1969. Memphis Lee fights with the city powers over selling his diner amid urban redevelopment. Directed by Bob Devin Jones.
2013: The Piano Lesson
Set in 1936. A piano is a source of contention for a brother and a sister. Is it a precious heirloom or an asset to be sold? Directed by Mark Clayton Southers.
2012: Seven Guitars
Set in 1948. A mystery surrounds the death of Floyd Barton, a blues singer with a surprise hit single. Directed by Jones.
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2011: Ma Rainey's Black Bottom
Set in 1927 in Chicago, the only play in the cycle not set in Pittsburgh. A recording session with blues singer Ma Rainey devolves amid tension. Directed by Southers.
Sept. 2009: Fences
Set in 1957. Troy Maxson, a former Negro League baseball star, now works on a garbage truck. Directed by Timothy Douglas.
Jan. 2009: King Hedley II
Set in 1985. An ex-con struggles to make ends meet, selling stolen refrigerators to buy a video store. Directed by Jones.
2007: Gem of the Ocean
Set in 1904. Features a 285-year-old matriarch named Aunt Ester, a recurring character in the cycle and spiritual guide for the community. Directed by Jones.