Sunday, January 21, 2007

Radio Preservation: Wilson's Play May Resonate with What's Happening in Your Neighborhood, Too

The Goodman Theater presents August Wilson's Radio Golf on its main stage through February 18. The playwright, who was known to love Chicago and fostered the city's Congo Square Theater, died last year after a bout with cancer.

We saw it last night. Here's a plot summary (borrowed from The Goodman Theater's website):

"Aunt Ester's house at 1839 Wylie Avenue is scheduled for demolition to make way for Bedford Hills, a slick new real estate venture designed to revive Pittsburgh's depressed Hill District--and boost Harmond Wilks' chances of becoming the city's first black mayor.

But first, the government must declare the historic neighborhood blighted, unleashing federal money for its development. All goes according to plan until a mysterious stranger, claiming ownership of the house, forces Wilks to reconsider his path to success."

The play was very strong, but I have been stopping short of raving about it. The entire two hours of the script took place in a single room. I felt the script demanded that the characters confront the physical house in some way. They never did. I also felt like the script contained a lot of explaining and reminiscing, which kept the characters at a bit of an arm's length. I couldn't really get engaged in their world. I could only sit back and be told about it.

Nonetheless, the importance of many of the issues it touched upon can't be denied. The acting was superb, and the staging was over-the-top. It felt meaningful to see the issues of development vs. demolition brought to the stage in this way, and I thought Wilson gave both sides a fair shake. He's equivocal on his resolution, and I was grateful for it.

Photo courtesy of The Goodman Theater.


Michael Allen said...

Thank you for pointing this play out. Perhaps a performance in St. Louis is one the way; if not, I'll get a copy of the script. Wilson was one of the finest American playwrights ever, and despite its shortcomings "Radio Golf" seems to be as thought-provoking and timely as the rest of his work.

Jennifer said...

YOu know, I think reading it would be very rewarding.

The characters have a lot of rich and wonderful things to say, and in some ways, "hearing" their long points of view via the page might allow you to connect more deeply with the work.

Of course, that kind of comment must make playwrights like Wilson and the quality actors I saw on stage roll over in their graves and dressing rooms.

I did not at all mean to imply that it was not worth seeing. It is. I just had to stop short of fawning over it, though.

It was the first Wilson play I've seen, so I have no context of his other work, which I suspect surpasses this one. And that is no small feat.

best --jr