The late, great playwright August Wilson has given us a play a decade, showing us the black experience in Pittsburgh. We’ve seen all of his plays at Trinity Rep, and they just keep getting better, right up to “Radio Golf,” which is playing in the downstairs Dowling Theatre through March 1.
Joe Wilson Jr. stars as Harmond Wilks, a real estate developer who is running for mayor of Pittsburgh. Along with his friend and partner, Roosevelt Hicks (Omar Robinson), and wife (Tonia Jackson), they are developing a tract of land in his low-income, predominantly black district, which will force the demolition of a rundown house. The situation gets quite complicated as Old Joe (Ricardo Pitts-Wiley) lays claim on the property.
The action takes place in a great set that doubles as the real estate office and future headquarters for Harmond’s mayoral campaign (designed by Michael McGarty and Baron E. Pugh.)
The conscience of the play comes in the form of a local who is hired as a handyman but also serves as Wilson’s method of getting to Harmond’s sense of right and wrong. The role was given to Dereks Thomas, who two days before press night sustained an injury that prevented him from performing. Director Jude Sandy was presented with the theatre world’s worst nightmare: finding a replacement and getting the actor to give a believable performance “on book.” The show must go on. With a newspaper covering his script most of the time, JaMario Stills had all of the movements and inflections down pat and carried off his important role perfectly.
Pitts-Wiley left the Trinity stable of actors years ago, when black actors were few and far between in Rhode Island, to form his own Mixed Magic Theatre. He had performed in three of Wilson’s plays to date and now had a chance at his juiciest, “Old Joe.” This veteran actor, who has been a powerful force in the Rhode Island theatre community, absolutely killed the role with his best performance ever.
Make no doubt about it: “Radio Golf” is a serious, political and intense play, filled with the anger of a black man who fights for his people with strong dialogue and statements about injustice. A couple of the lines actually drew reactions from the audience who, without question, related them to our present political leadership.
The play is so intense that comic relief is needed to give the audience a breather, and does it get it from Pitts-Wiley’s performance. You hang on his every word, which he delivers in his patented low, articulate, passionate manner.
The play gets pretty heavy at the end when issues of right and wrong, what is important in a person’s life, and injustice all take center stage. Bravo to Trinity, director Jude Sandy, the actors and everyone involved in this production for giving us this incredible theatrical experience.
“Radio Golf” is at Trinity through March 1. Call 351-4242 for reservations.