Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Hotep's Point of Review: Radio Golf by August Wilson

Radio Golf
Brilliantly Written by August Wilson
Produced by the Pittsburgh Playwrights Theater Company 

            The funkadelic wampwampbowwamps of Stevie Wonder's greatest hits began to play in the background as I held onto the unoccupied armrests on each side of me. I braced myself for this new experience called "Radio Golf" by the legendary genius of August Wilson. I thought a quick prayer for the cast and crew and I was ready for the ride.
            This play was about the "here and now", and not “the way back when". Socially conscious and responsible, Mr. August Wilson was able to universally highlight the neighborhood concerns of the Historic Hill District during the election of Harmond Wilks for Pittsburgh’s first black mayor. The setting was the Bedford Hills Redevelopment Office, Pittsburgh, PA. Now, I grew up North of Pittsburgh, but I spent that exact year, 1997, at St. Benedict the Moor, right on Bedford Ave. I won’t tell you what grade I was in. Little did I know, while I was double dutchin’ to Heavy D songs, there was an intense political race going on that would change the future of the City for years to come. 
            You will see and hear the words “radio" and "golf” on stage and in dialogue, but you will walk away with a much broader perspective of them both. The office space looked perfectly used and unused at the same time. We all wondered how each specific detail of the room would come into play. The usage of Pittsburgh Playwrights Theater was key to this production. Producing Artistic Director, Mark Clayton Southers, used his own theater space wisely, creating spontaneous intimacy between actor and spectator. The actors who entered the stage began displaying their roles even in the wings as they approached their place in the lights. The props were mastered by David Conley and Mark was aided in carpentry by Diane Melchitzky. Posters and graphic design were by Eric Donaldson and Eric A. Smith. I noticed the subtleties of the lighting during certain dramatic scenes which can only be attributed to light designer Bob Steineck and light technician W. Roger Randolph. I advise you sit in the front row on any side of theater for an optimum view. I almost wanted to buy the soundtrack to play at home. Sound was designed by Mark Whitehead and the sound technician was Vendell Nasir II. It was so on point! I didn't realize how important the audio aspect could be until I heard its timely placement between scenes.
          Production Manager Eric A. Smith gave a warm introduction and a heartfelt salute to the 10 year completion of August Wilson's 10 play Pittsburgh Century Cycle, as well as the 10th anniversary of the Pittsburgh Playwrights Theater Company. I thoroughly enjoyed the hospitality of Neicy Southers and Lexie Dorsette as we celebrated the momentous occasion afterwards.I always want to mention the stage manager, Ayisha Morgan-Lee, and the assistant stage manager, Mont Jones. They all must’ve worked well together because the show kept me on the edge of my seat.
          I think I represent the people who are new to theater and those who may feel intimidated by not being in “the loop.” Well it is time for you to get in the loop because the loop is all around you. 360 degrees! Some of the Best Talent in the world has come from Pittsburgh stages. August Wilson was intended to be heard by the world and it has been. Why not by you, too?
          Chrystal Bates had the first line of the show. And boy did we see and hear her character, Mame Wilks. We all thought at once… "Wow! That girl Sharp!” She received the same mental compliments that we also give to Michelle Obama's essence when she walks on the scene. Power, grace, femininity, and fashion sense from head to toe. Mame and her husband Harmond look like a sound believable power couple. Their interactions were reminiscent of the chemistry between Heathcliff and Claire Huxtable and their heated moments onstage were perfectly balanced. Emotionally driven Mame was still business like as she exemplified love and protection for her king, Harmond. It's so hard to write this sometimes because I want to give everything away! But let’s see, her short cut was perfect and the color coordination of the business attire was fierce. Costume  and makeup design was from the creative visionary Cheryl El-Walker. She puts her fingerprint on every character she dresses. But Mrs. Bates was even able to act through her stylish appearance which I know can be hard to do when you are as young and stunning as she is. She played lovingly with her husband at first, and then she became passionately upset when the plot thickened. Her demeanor was always appropriate and her body language spoke volumes.
          Lead role Harmon Wilks (played by Mark Clayton Southers) had a calm omniscience about him from the time he walked through the front door of the redevelopment office. He just knew he had all of the answers, and it was his time to encourage his black community towards activism while he fought to bring a new day to the Hill.  The word redevelopment really sticks out to me in these times where this is happening under our noses as we speak. He was not 100% cold hearted, because when Mame shifted her weight and swung those hips he was forced to listen to her with a new ears. He had plans to resurrect the Hill from its dead economic state with redevelopment in mind. Little did he know how deep he would have to dig to preserve one of the Hill's last standing relics, 1839 Wiley Avenue. Every time young Harmond put on those fly glasses, he meant business. They were not just a prop. I think he should wear them more often, personally. Oooh! and watch how he and Roosevelt celebrate! I wish I could put that on rewind! If you enjoy watching fraternity brothers jump and groove in their lines you will love the hyperactive choreography of their celebratory dance.
         Arthur Terry has a face for the stage and a perfect voice for radio. I wanted to call his character, Roosevelt Hicks, "Chirp! Chirp!" because he made sure, every time, to park his car closely and securely where he could see it from the office.  This know-it-all brother sauntered across stage in his suit and tie constantly trying to play his cards right on the business front. His golf putting form has to be superb by the way he practiced religiously in the office. He knew how to mix and mingle with the white powers that be, to the point that it jeopardized his tight relationship with Harmond. Heartless is the word that comes to mind, but business and money are the words he would rather use. His timely facial expressions helped us literally see what he was thinking. "Nothing but blue skies," had to be my favorite animated moment from him. You will just have to see it for yourself. Excellent work!
         Kevin Brown played Elder Joseph Barlow who had a dance and jig of his own. Sometimes it's very hard to comment on a brilliant performance, but I have to because I done started this thing! We all loved his hilarious innocence, but his thought provoking lectures annoyed the whole campaign office.  This old timer stood his ground establishing his well earned seniority on The Hill. Often times driving down Center Avenue I think, “Wow there are so many old men standing outside up there. Old Joe happened to be one of them. Oh and Old Joe would not be double crossed, swindled or scammed by a young brother in office. He knows his rights! He is a family man who lives by the statutes of respect that so many of us have forgotten these days.  He could not be silenced either, boy! If he was going to petition for something besides the preservation of his daughter’s home, it would have been to turn on those lights up at the courts so people could gather and just play safely. Harmond fought him tooth and nail but he relentlessly brought out the old wisdom that was much needed by candidate Harmond Wilks. He seemed to know just what "deh peoples" want.
        Now, if Wali Jamal does not just get out of town!!!  I just don't know what to do with him! He came off very youthful in his role as Sterling Johnson as well, but the acting was of course excellent and seasoned. He explained his street logic to Harmon with absolute intention and conviction. Every point he made was clear, and the smile on his face always held knowledgeable secrets to life. The conflict between him and Roosevelt grew scene by scene but somehow he was always right. That smart ass! He was a warrior of sorts, and he took the figurative fight between cowboys and Indians very seriously. Expect Wali to make you laugh and nearly jump from your seat listening to what he will spit out next.
        I know that good direction had so much to do with the body language, inflection, tone, and blocking of this theatrical production.  I wish I knew the director personally, but maybe it's best for my review that I don't. I am able to give my unbiased opinion of the direction in a positive way. Eileen J. Morris did her thang!! Now I know some things will change as the run continues, but for an opening night, the cohesiveness on stage and behind the scenes was smooth as silk, friendly and familiar. Critical analysis of the emotional interactions between the characters had clearly been ironed out thoroughly by these professionals. I remember in the talkback afterwards someone said, "I've seen this play over and over, but in this production, I finally got it." When someone in the audience says, "I get it" those are the three most meaningful words a director could hear.
        As you can see, I thoroughly enjoyed myself at the Pittsburgh Playwrights Theater last Saturday on opening night, and if I can I will see it again. This play really helped me see how close I am to rich artistic culture despite age, race, or location. This play is for you too.  My own debut professional theater performance was only last year, but I am growing so much by studying the beautiful talent of our city. "Radio Golf" makes me proud to say I am from Pittsburgh.
        I was silent as I left out of the theater I even stood by myself to take in the whirlwind of words I just heard on the third floor of 937 Liberty Avenue. I greeted a beautiful couple as we entered the elevator with a smile. She liked my short haircut, and I told her I liked her ensemble. Her man's locks were on point too, but some moments are just for sisters. On the top floor of the garage I looked up to the sky and thanked August Wilson with tears in my eyes. I never met him but I am so glad to know his work. His soul’s presence is a part of my inspiration to write every single day.
Go see this play.


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1 comment:

  1. Greetings my sistah' .Thank you for that wonderful review. Normally,I don't read reviews until the show closes.Yours was a joy to read and like quicksand I was sucked in. No...not because you had glowing things to say about everyone involved,but for your vision and your style of writing....and because you got it!
    Your character assesment was so on point.
    Performing isn't something you do's something that you give. Thanks for recieving what we give/gave....because it comes from the deepest tissues of our hearts and souls. Hotep the Artist with sincere gratitude .....Thank you. Peace & Blessings
    Kevin Brown