Barack Obama could become the first black president in American history, and suddenly, race and politics are under the microscope. Itís a case of overcoming prejudice and making history, but itís also a case of one man versus another man in yet another election. Race just shouldnít come into it. Should it?
Radio Golf, the late August Wilsonís intelligently written play, the last in his series of ten plays examining the African-American experience in each decade of the 20th century, looks at the 1990's and some of the issues involved when a black man runs for office, but offers some quite different perspectives on whatís really involved in climbing the political ladder.
Set in Pittsburgh, the action takes place on a single set. Libby Watsonís cleverly designed, rundown, half-constructed office in Ďthe Hillsí where Harmond Wicks has set up his real estate office, and from which he intends to launch his redevelopment plans, bringing Starbucks and Whole Foods to the half-forgotten area. His business partner Roosevelt Hicks has his eye on the money ladder, and his wife, Mame, has her heart set on getting Harmond into office as the first black mayor.
In what seems like a well-worn plot development, the locals, with their apparently simple life and simple morals, manage to interfere, posing questions about what is really important, and how to achieve it.
Itís a wordy piece, and one thatís frustratingly slow to get going, but once the scene is set and the pace quickens, hard-hitting and challenging questions fly thick and fast. Wilsonís cunning, however, is that despite the potential intensity of the issues under examination, this is still a touching personal story.
Danny Sapaniís fantastically sensitive Harmond Wilks is the lynchpin of the story, caught between Roger Griffithsí yuppie Roosevelt Hicks, determined that climbing the political ladder and raising profile is the way forward, and Ray Shellís edgy local handyman, Sterling Johnson, who doesnít concern himself with the bigger picture, but sees only what is right and wrong in the here and now.
The dialogue is quick and constant, and all the cast fall prey to distracting stuttering and blundered lines, but generally, although awkward, these donít detract from the content, which becomes increasingly weighty as the play progresses. Joseph Marcell, best known to children of the Eighties as Geoffrey in cult classic The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, fills the shoes of Elder Joseph Barlow, the captivating local with a chequered background, with a wit and charm that show him to be a seasoned professional.
The timing of the British premiere of Radio Golf is apt. Itís good to be reminded of the humanity behind the headlines when America is poised to make history with its first black president, and Wilsonís engrossing play raises interesting questions about just how real or symbolic this potential change really is. The piece could do with some tightening up at times, but the gradual progression of the plot, combined with some excellent directorial decisions from Paulette Randall, who has already directed three other Wilson plays at the Tricycle, create a world that appeals, regardless of your political leanings.
- Kate Jackson