In many ways, Radio Golf is all about the places we do not see. First among those unseen locations is the area known as the Hill, where Harmond plans his development project. Although renderings of the construction site are presented in the play, we never actually see them. More importantly, we do not see the area that is about to be torn down: we do not see what is being sacrificed in the name of “revitalization.”

We also do not see the house on 1830 Wylie owned by Old Joe (also known as Aunt Ester’s house). We do not see the various paintings of the exterior of the house that are shown throughout the play. In fact, the most detail we have about the house comes from Harmond after he visits it. Audiences familiar with Wilson’s work know that the house appears in Gem of the Ocean; however, that play is set ninety-three years before Radio Golf. In essence, it is no longer the same house. By keeping all of these places offstage, Wilson obviously cares less about his audience’s connection with them and more about their relations to the characters. Aunt Ester’s house is only meaningful to the audience because it is meaningful to Harmond.

The place that is shown to the audience is Harmond’s real estate office and would-be campaign headquarters. The play opens in a place that signifies all of the power Harmond has. He is clearly wealthy enough to afford a commercial property. Also, the fact that he is involved in real estate further establishes his influence within the community. Finally, since the office is on the verge of becoming a campaign hub, it proves Harmond’s political pull. Tellingly, by the end of the play, Harmond still has the place, but all of the power it used to signify is gone.

In Radio Golf, place serves another purpose—the battleground for identity. If the play is about an African-American man rediscovering his roots, then those roots are embedded in the very ground of the Hill. Harmond’s fight for Aunt Ester’s house is a fight for his own history and heritage. Wilson makes pointed commentary about Mame’s and Roosevelt’s willingness to surrender that history to white corporate America. The name-dropping of Starbucks, Barnes and Noble, and Whole Foods is a clear statement about upper-middle-class white commercialism absorbing black America and destroying it. In the course of learning about Aunt Ester’s house, Harmond literally discovers his family. In this way, his battle to prevent the demolition has become personal. Aunt Ester’s house may be old and run down, but it also has its own unique beauty. Most importantly, it belongs to someone else. Wilson uses the house as a cry of warning to African Americans not to forget history.

Radio Golf Performance Suggestions

Radio Golf is a play that might best be described as 90 percent naturalistic and 10 percent lyrical, yet it is that 10 percent that is most crucial to a production’s success. The mythos of Aunt Ester’s house might remain firmly offstage if the production team and performers do not make a conscious effort to include it. A good way to balance these ideas is through the design elements. The set itself should be thoroughly naturalistic to properly give the feel of the time and place. The story is set in 1997 Pittsburgh for a reason, and the sense of place should be tangible. Where the lyrical element might be brought into the production is through sound and lighting. Wilson’s characters (particularly Old Joe and Harmond) occasionally wax poetic in monologue format. A change in lighting accompanied by a subtle musical motif would allow the ghostly presence of history to enter the play without distracting from the primary tone and action. It is a delicate balance but one that is crucial to the success of Radio Golf and for maintaining its consistency within the canon of the Pittsburgh Cycle.

Radio Golf Bibliography

Booker, Margaret. 2006. “Radio Golf.” Theatre Journal 58 (2): 342(3). A review of a pre-Broadway production of Radio Golf.

Brantley, Ben. 2005. “Voices Warped by the Business Blues.” New York Times, April 30, p. B11(L). Brantley’s review of one of the earliest productions of Radio Golf praises its elegiac quality but also criticizes it as Wilson’s weakest play.

Hornby, Richard. 2006. “History Plays.” Hudson Review 58 (4): 635-42. A collection of theater reviews of plays dealing with history, including Radio Golf.

McCarter, Jeremy. 2007. “Over and Out: On the Wordy Pleasures of August Wilson’s Radio Golf.” New York 40 (18): 124(3). A review of the Broadway production that praises the play as a fitting finale to the cycle while still acknowledging its shortcomings.

Rooney, David. 2007. “Golf Completes Course.” Variety 406 (13): 56(2). A relatively positive review of the Broadway production that notes its ties to the earlier plays in the Pittsburg Cycle.