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.
The play opens in the Bedford Hills Redevelopment Office in the Hill district of Pittsburgh. There are boxes everywhere, indicating that the office is in transition. Mame Wilks and her husband, Harmond, enter bearing even more boxes. Mame is less than impressed with the office and debates with her husband about whether this storefront is the ideal headquarters for his mayoral campaign. Harmond’s good friend Roosevelt Hicks then enters, bringing a diagram of the new development project that the two are financing for construction in the Hill district. Still pending approval from the city, the plan includes retail chains, grocery stores, apartments, and other structures. Mame disagrees with Harmond about the naming of the new medical center that will be built on the site. Harmond wants to name it after Sarah Degree, the area’s first black nurse. Mame reminds him that she needs a copy of an upcoming speech of Harmond’s to give to the newspaper.
After Mame leaves, Roosevelt expresses his concerns that the development deal will not go through and that he will lose all his money. Harmond assures him the deal is all set, and Roosevelt turns to talking about his discovery of his love of golf, which he now teaches on the side. Mame calls from the road to tell them that she passed by someone painting an old house scheduled for demolition to make way for the development project. Roosevelt leaves and Sterling Johnson enters. Sterling is an old classmate of Harmond’s who spent some time in jail for robbery. He declares himself reformed and says he is looking for construction work. Harmond agrees to let him redo the campaign office. They shake on it, and Sterling leaves as Roosevelt returns. Roosevelt spoke with the man who was painting the house, and the reason the man gave for doing it was that the house was his property.
Scene 2 finds Harmond looking over the revised rendering for the development project. An old man named Elder Joseph Barlow (who goes by “Old Joe”) enters and asks if Harmond is a lawyer. Harmond tries to send him down to Hill House to get a lawyer, but Old Joe insists he needs Harmond’s help because Harmond is a “big man.” Old Joe reveals that he knows of Harmond’s family, including...
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