August Wilson€s €Radio Golf€ Features Brilliant Cast in Studio Theatre€s Production

Edith Billups | 6/3/2009, 11:40 a.m.

The complex issues of gentrification and the responsibilities of Black politicians are superbly tackled in August Wilson€s €Radio Golf,€ now playing through June 28 at the Studio Theatre in Northwest.

Featuring Walter Coppage as Harmond Wilks, a powerful politician who aims to be Pittsburgh€s first African American mayor, the production features a brilliant cast that nails the question of: how can African Americans move forward without abandoning their history?

With D.C.€s Logan Circle, Columbia Heights, and other neighborhoods undergoing major gentrification and displacement of poor residents, this final play in Wilson€s 10-play cycle covering the African American experience, will solidly resonate with D.C.-area residents.

A master wordsmith, Wilson set €Radio Golf€ in Pittsburgh€s deteriorating Hill District, where Wilks is leading a redevelopment project that will raise the decaying buildings of a predominantly African American neighborhood and bring in €economically stimulating€ business chains.

The major obstacle, however, is one old house owned by an elderly African American man who refuses to be displaced or bought out. An oversight of placing a public notice in the local newspaper seems to be his only bargaining chip, even though his family never paid property taxes, resulting in the house being sold at public auction.

The dilemma sets up a moral consciousness issue for Wilks, who was raised in an affluent African American home by an overbearing father who always dominated his son€s decisions. The politician is determined to carve out his own path now and wants to do the right thing by Old Joe (fabulously played by Fred Strother), whose mother owned the house. Wilks€ decision, however, could cost him his bid for mayor, as he purchased the house for a redevelopment group before it went on public auction.

Wilks€ decision also could cost him the love of his wife Mame (played with tenacity by Helen Hayes Award winner Deidra LaWan Starnes), who has been the public relations genius behind Wilks€ mayoral campaign. She is on target to be the governor€s new public relations person, but the possibility of a stain on her husband€s career could wipe out her new career.

As Roosevelt Hicks, the African American bank executive who has invested in the redevelopment project, Kim Sullivan beautifully plays Wilks€ friend whose business dealings with a wealthy White businessman sets him up as the €front man€ and minority interest in the purchase of an urban radio station. When Hicks disagrees with Wilks€ decision to not tear down the house because it could cost the loss of federal money for the project and the lost of the anchoring business chains, it begins to pit the men against one another. The tension rises when Hicks threatens to force Wilks out of the redevelopment deal by using the financial capital of his new White partner.

In the play, Erik Kilpatrick plays Sterling Johnson, Old Joe€s initial sole ally, and Kilpatrick solidly plays a former convict and construction worker who wants to help the old man save his house.

The talented cast weaves an emotional web that keeps audience members riveted to their seats, as a war is raged that raises even more moral and legal issues. Are middle class African Americans modern day €Uncle Toms€ when they partner with affluent White entrepreneurs and €sell out€ their communities for their own personal gain? To what extent is progress made when the soul and history of communities are raised for modern day asphalt jungles?

€Radio Golf€ is the culmination of Wilson€s 10-play cycle and is explosive, humorous and thought-provoking. This is solid theater at its best.

For tickets, visit www.studiotheatre.org, or call 202 332-3300.