Harmond Wilks—a Pittsburgh real estate developer seeking to revitalize the Hill and become mayor. His desire for success is balanced by his need to preserve his roots.
Mame Wilks—Harmond’s wife and campaign manager. She is the voice of reason for Harmond and is pursuing a prestigious position for herself in the governor’s office.
Roosevelt Hicks—Harmond’s longtime friend. A gambler by nature, Roosevelt has invested everything (literally and figuratively) in Harmond’s plans for the future of the Hill. When not pursuing the next big deal, Roosevelt is a serious golf enthusiast.
Sterling Johnson—an ex-con who once went to school with Harmond and currently works as a contractor. He is no-nonsense and direct.
Joseph Elder Barlow—an elderly man who is disputing the demolition of an old, dilapidated house on the Hill. He speaks both wisely and opaquely, and is familiar with Harmond’s family.
The character of Harmond Wilks presents the audience with some unique challenges. Wilson wants the audience to root for him to have it all: the money, the development deal, and the mayoralty, all the while keeping his identity and cultural heritage intact. Essentially, Harmond is a man who simply wants too much. His wife, Mame, points out to him that life has always gone his way. If Harmond has a character flaw, it is his inability to fathom a world over which he cannot exert his control.
A second key character trait that results in his undoing is a rather stubborn attachment to what is right. When Mame tries to talk him out of criticizing the police commissioner, he refuses. Similarly, he disregards her advice about the naming of the Sarah Degree Medical Center. He even ignores her protestations about having his campaign headquarters in a rundown real estate office on the Hill. In presenting this, Wilson prepares the audience for Harmond’s eventual change.
Another quality that makes this change believable is Harmond’s personable nature. He is arguably the warmest character in the play, expressing patience with other characters’ shortcomings while genuinely celebrating their successes. Furthermore, he brings out the warmer sides of the other characters; he draws out their stories and finds their senses of humor. In short, Wilson makes Harmond a man whom you would like to see succeed.
Perhaps the most crucial aspect of his character is his drive. Although the hints about his past are subtly placed, it is clear that Harmond has something to prove. His dead father’s weight as a shrewd businessman is felt throughout. Similarly, his need to fulfill the potential of both himself and his late brother is palpable. Harmond must embody his family’s legacy.
Mame Wilks, Harmond’s wife, is presented as a kind of foil to Harmond. If Harmond is idealistic to the point of naiveté, Mame remains firmly rooted in the practical. This matter-of-factness ironically does not make her seem calculating. Rather, Mame has an acute understanding of how the world does and does not work. She has little patience for the men...