A Powerful 'Radio Golf' at Trinity Rep

by Will Demers

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Thursday February 6, 2020

Joe Wilson, Jr. in "Radio Golf" at the Trinity Repertory Company through March 1
Joe Wilson, Jr. in "Radio Golf" at the Trinity Repertory Company through March 1  (Source:Mark Turek)

It's Pittsburgh in 1997, and Harmond Wilks is determined to be mayor. Not only that, but he has dreams of reinvigorating the neighborhood he grew up in, and this is where his troubles will begin. An abandoned house, a business partner with an agenda of his own, and an old man whose past might just be connected to him are just some of the obstacles in his way.

August Wilson's "Radio Golf" gives us an impassioned look at African American life in the late twentieth century; Wilson's work about Pittsburgh is also known as his "Century Cycle" in which ten of his works culminate in "Golf" that are connected by similar characters. Wilks here is fleshed out in an outstanding performance by Joe Wilson, Jr. and a very strong cast surrounds him, giving new life to a story that could very well be lifted from today's headlines.

Tonia Jackson plays Wilks' wife Mame, Ricardo Pitts-Wiley plays Elder Joseph Barlow, and Omar Robinson is Roosevelt Hicks, Wilks business partner. Rounding out the cast is JaMario Stills as Sterling Johnson, replacing actor Dereks Thomas. Wilson's play is so fabulously nuanced as a character study that this fine group of actors do it incredible justice, as his dialogue unfolds we see human nature in all of it's backwards splendor. Director Jude Sandy (who last year acted in Scrooge and Seymour in "Little Shop of Horrors") show us that he not only can act but helm an amazing show.

Some of the funniest moments are courtesy of Pitts-Wiley's Elder Joseph; so much so that every time he's onstage the audience anticipation is palpable. Jackson's Mame is wonderful; she clearly loves her husband but also wants him to be mayor at all costs, no matter who gets brushed aside. Robinson is wonderful as a complicated man who only wants greatness of his own, which clashes with Wilks ideals. JaMario Stills is a standout here as a man who could be called simple, yet his character has the most to say about the goings on in Pittsburgh, Stills is a Brown/Trinity MFA student and his career will be one to watch.

The sets (co-designed by Michael McGarty and Baron E. Pugh) are fascinating to look at, as always and capture something about what life was like in that city of the past. August Wilson's "Radio Golf" is a powerful play about people just wanting a better life for themselves, and the deft execution by Trinity's talented company makes this show, the first absolute must see of 2020.

"Radio Golf" is running through March 1st at Trinity Repertory Company 201 Washington Street, Providence, RI 02903. For information or tickets, call 401-351-4242 or visit www.trinityrep.com