August Wilson’s play completes the “American Century Cycle” trilogy chronicling the joy and hardship of Black American life.
August Wilson achieved everything most playwrights dream of: a Tony Award, a Pulitzer Prize, Broadway hits. His plays have brought the Black American experience to life on stages around the world. But Wilson was born on a much smaller stage: the Hill District, a vibrant, jazzy, poor neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He was biracial — his mother was Black; his German father was white (and absent) — and faced constant race-based abuse and bullying at school. Wilson secretly dropped out at 15, spending school hours reading voraciously at the public library and listening to people tell stories in The Hill’s barbershop, on the sidewalks and in restaurants. In these years, he built up knowledge he would draw from his entire life.
Wilson’s best-known work is “American Century Cycle,” a set of 10 plays chronicling the joy and hardship of Black American life across the 20th century. There is one play for each decade, and the stories overlap; characters from one play might appear in another.
This summer, Bethesda’s Round House Theatre presents the final play, “Radio Golf,” from June 7 to July 2. Set in 1997, the story follows Harmond Wilks (JaBen Early), an ambitious Cornell graduate who just inherited his father’s real estate business. When the play opens, Wilks has returned to his hometown Hill District to redevelop the neighborhood and launch his bid to become Pittsburgh’s first Black mayor.
Wilks is joined by his wife Mame (Renee Elizabeth Wilson) who is both organizing his campaign and pursuing her own dream of the governor’s office. Roosevelt Hicks (Ro Boddie) is his business partner, a golf-loving bank vice president. Each of their dreams seems to be coming true — “everything is lining up and going so good for us” — until Elder Joseph Barlow (Craig Wallace) knocks on the office door, changing everything for Wilks.
Douglas, the director, offers two questions for audiences to consider as they watch Wilks and his friends work out their dreams in a broken reality. First: What is the cost of progress? What must be torn down to make way for new developments? And second: What is the price of a dream? What should Harmond Wilks give up — and not give up — in pursuit of the good mission to become Pittsburgh’s mayor?
“I was drawn to the role because August Wilson is a brilliant writer who captures the American experience in a way that no other playwright has accomplished,” Early says.
“Radio Golf” is the story of his struggle.
“Radio Golf” will play at Round House Theatre from June 7 to July 2. You can purchase tickets here.
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