Everyman Theatre’s current production, billed as August Wilson’s Radio Golf, as though his name is part of the title (it isn’t), doesn’t have much golf in it. It’s not even about golf. It’s about a house. It’s a David and Goliath story, full of wonderful characters and some damn funny dialogue.
Playwright August Wilson, whose popular works include Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Jitney, and Two Trains Running, in his lifetime earned two Pulitzer Prizes for Drama for The Piano Lesson and Fences, for which he also received a Tony. Radio Golf is part of a ten play cycle referred to as The August Wilson Century Cycle or The American Century Cycle, in which each show focuses on one decade in the lives of Black Americans.
August Wilson’s work flourished in the wake of the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and 1970s, bringing to theater characters and circumstances at that time unrecognized on stage, or indeed in most media.
Director Carl Cofield has significant talent in this cast and keeps them moving around the single set, absolutely crucial in a talky play in which all the dramatic action takes place offstage. The pacing of the show is brisk without seeming rushed.
Resident Company member Dawn Ursula as Mame Wilks is bright, brittle, and no-nonsense about being upwardly mobile. Her movements are clean, and her delivery sharp. She’s an excellent foil to Jamil Mangan as Harmond Wilks, our central character, in his Everyman debut performance. Mangan’s physicality indicates conflict in Act I that we don’t hear as dialogue until Act II. He’s likable and relatable, which invests us in a somewhat underwritten character.
Jason B. McIntosh is excellent in his brash, blustery way as Roosevelt Hicks, who drives the majority of the plot points. Charles Dumas as Elder Joseph Barlow (“Call me ‘Old Joe’ “) brings a loose, affable exterior to a character who is, ultimately, rather single-minded and focused. Sterling Johnson, played by Anton Floyd, might be my favorite character–his pragmatism and turn of phrase are very appealing. Floyd’s excellent timing and pointed expressions are wonderful.
Interestingly, the different “voice” of each character is not simply a matter of accent or diction; each delivers at a different tempo, with different ranges of emotion and volume. They’re equally fascinating to watch, as their movements tie right in and support the character rather than argue with it.
The set, designed by Christopher Swader & Justin Swader, is simply full of surprises. It’s a great combination of perfectly detailed and intriguingly unfinished. There are coffee filters on the shelf beneath the coffeepot, and I think that’s an actual 1990s computer monitor on the desk. There’s always another little something to look at, and I wonder what delightful details escaped my notice.
In short, I recommend this Everyman production of August Wilson’s final play. It’s also the final play in his Century Cycle, and his final work.
In September 2005, Rocco Landesman of Jujamcyn Theaters announced plans to change the 52nd Street Virginia Theatre’s name to the August Wilson Theatre. This action was precipitated by news of Wilson’s imminent demise. Of the renaming, August Wilson said, “I have a robust imagination, but I never imagined anything like this. I think it is an extraordinary honor, and it is truly a capstone of my career. I am overwhelmed.”
Mr. Wilson, the first African-American for whom a Broadway theater was named, was working against advanced liver cancer to finish Radio Golf.
The new marquee on the 1200 seat venue was unveiled on October 17, 2005, two weeks after Mr. Wilson’s death.
Despite Mr. Landesman’s quoted intent that the renamed theater would produce Radio Golf as its first show following the renaming, Radio Golf was first performed by the Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut in 2005, and had its Broadway premiere in 2007 at the Cort Theatre. Meanwhile, at the August Wilson Theater, Jersey Boys played until it was replaced by Groundhog Day in 2017.
“It’s funny!” my theater companion said during Intermission for Radio Golf. “I didn’t expect it to be funny.” Radio Golf is funny and touching and complicated and sad. Really, a lot like life. Imagine that.
Running Time: Two hours and 20 minutes, with one 15 minute intermission.