Radio Golf, August Wilson’s last play, is also the last play chronologically in his famous Pittsburgh Cycle, a series of ten dramas chronicling African-American life in twentieth-century America. Although the plays were not written in the order of the chronology they depict, many characters, places, and ideas recur in the works. Radio Golf had its world premiere just six months before Wilson lost his battle with cancer. Playing in Seattle (where many of Wilson’s plays were nurtured), Boston, and Baltimore, among other regional venues, Radio Golf eventually made it to Broadway in 2007, where it was greeted with accolades and awards.
Radio Golf puts a unique twist on the elegy. Perhaps the most self-aware of all of the Pittsburgh dramas, the play eschews “riding-off-into-the-sunset” clichés even as it gracefully ends a landmark piece of storytelling. Set in 1997, the play is a direct confrontation of history and the present. The weight of the other nine plays is keenly felt in the story of Harmond Wilks, a man who finds both himself and the place that birthed him at a crossroads. On the verge of an almost-guaranteed win as a mayoral candidate, Wilks finds his identity shaken when his morals and ideals are questioned by those around him. Ultimately, he must recognize what the price of his success is and decide whether he is willing to pay it. Radio Golf is Wilson’s most direct interrogation of his audience regarding what it means to be African American. He ultimately asks whether it is possible for black culture and heritage to be preserved when it is integrated into mainstream white society. Far from wistful, the ending of Radio Golf asks its audience to renew its commitment to dealing with these complicated issues.