Radio Golf at The Rep’s Stiemke Theater
It’s hard to watch the tears of frustration, so deftly produced by Tyrone Mitchell Henderson as lead character Harmond Wilks, stream down the actor’s face. The tears raise empathy for both the character, who is trying so hard to do the right thing for everyone, and for the actor, who must produce that level of emotion night after night.
Wilks is opening a construction office with business partner Roosevelt Hicks (Howard W. Overshown) near a federally funded re-development project in Pittsburgh’s historic Hills Neighborhood. Wilks is also campaigning for mayor, and Hicks has become VP of a local bank. Wilks’ spouse, Mame (Kelly Taffe) is assured of becoming the public relations person for the governor of Pennsylvania.
Radio Golf takes its name from a sub-plot involving the minority-contingent takeover of a radio station and one principal character’s love of golf and Tiger Woods. It also has to do with elite African-Americans enjoying an upper-class leisure sport; back in the day, they could only be caddies.
On the surface, Radio Golf is about gentrification. The locals suspect the intentions of a team of black and white outsider business owners, bankers and developers. On a more intimate level, it’s about re-connecting to the past and the need to honor oral tradition and artifacts.
Wilks wants to both redevelop the neighborhood and serve the people who live in it already. As the play unfolds, he realizes that no matter what he does, he will lose.
Remarkable performances abound in this Milwaukee Rep production, directed by Timothy Douglas (who is revisiting the play after working with Wilson on the premiere in 2005, the year the playwright died). Brown and Johnson round out their supporting characters. Overshown is a fascinating Roosevelt Hicks, Wilks’ banker/business partner/antagonist. His Wilks walks the walk and talks the talk of a proud African-American male, but he’s light-skinned enough to pass for white and knows how to dress for success and play the white-businessman game.
Henderson’s Wilks begins with the confidence and voice of Barack Obama. But his situation slowly chisels away at him until only a quivering stray remains. The actor is on stage for almost the full 180 minutes. Wilson assigned Henderson’s colleagues more monologues and cynical quips, but he gave Wilks the deepest humanity, and Henderson reveals it.
August Wilson’s Radio Golf continues its run for the Milwaukee Rep now through March 28 at the Stiemke Theater in the Jay and Patty Baker Theater Complex. For tickets and information on special pre- and post-show talks, call 414-224-9490 or visit The Rep’s website.