Pittsburgh Public Theater Tackles August Wilson's Final Play, 'Radio Golf'

By Carter, Alice T | Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, October 9, 2008 | Go to article overview

Pittsburgh Public Theater Tackles August Wilson's Final Play, 'Radio Golf'


Carter, Alice T, Tribune-Review/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review


Like many people, Ron OJ Parsons misses August Wilson.

"It's different now that he's gone," says Parsons, the director of Wilson's final play, "Radio Golf," now in previews by Pittsburgh Public Theater.

Wilson, a Hill District native, was working on "Radio Golf" when he died in 2005.

"Radio Golf" was not just the final play he wrote but the concluding installment of what had become Wilson's 10-play chronicle of the black experience in the 20th century, all but one of which were set in Pittsburgh.

During Wilson's life, Parsons directed and acted in several of Wilson's plays, and Wilson always was available to lend support or answer questions about his works.

But Parsons misses Wilson for more than practical reasons.

The Pittsburgh Public Theater production of "Radio Golf" finds the United States in the midst of the first presidential campaign that could put a black man in the White House. Locally, the Hill District once again is the center of attention, with discussion about whether plans for its urban redevelopment will have any positive effect on residents' lives.

That makes the plot and themes of "Radio Golf" particularly timely, Parsons says.

Harmond Wilks, the central character in "Radio Golf," is a black real-estate developer who is planning to run for mayor. At the same time, he's planning to develop an ambitious retail and apartment complex in the Hill District with the help of his business partner, Roosevelt Hicks, who has just become a vice president at Mellon Bank.

Wilks and Hicks find their plans unraveling when a self-employed contractor named Sterling Johnson and a senior citizen named Joseph Barlow question the developers' ownership of a decaying house at 1839 Wylie Ave., and unpleasant questions about the past begin to bubble to the surface.

"It would be interesting to have August here to discuss this," Parsons says. "One of the reasons so many are doing the play now is that it does have relevance to situations ... It has a lot of relevance to the political scene and to the city's urban scene."

Those familiar with Wilson's next-to-last play, "Gem of the Ocean," will recognize 1839 Wylie Ave. …

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