Naima Dawson is a published author, Chicago playwright, and professor. Her career accomplishments cover more than 20 years in Arts Entertainment. Her Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Columbia College Chicago and her Master of Education from DePaul University solidifies her ability to bridge the two worlds between Arts and Education. She is the writer and producer of Your Call! Late Night Improv & Sketch Comedy for Grown Folks, as seen in production at the Apollo Theater and The Mercury Theater.
Pictured: Allen Gilmore, James T Alfred, James Vincent Meredith. Photo by Michael Brosilow.
By Naima Dawson
August Wilson’s writings are not always filled with intense action; however, they do force us to examine the human condition, social structure, self-identity, and our integrity as individuals. He created what some might consider to be great think pieces. I find exceptional irony in how his writings of the past have become a telescope into the future.
Court Theatre opens its new season with RADIO GOLF, August Wilson’s tenth and final play in his American Century Cycle. Of all the Wilson plays I have experienced, RADIO GOLF, under the direction of Ron OJ Parson, has been a most gratifying experience. Parson’s ability to capitalize on how characters project emotions within a defined space always finds a magical sweet spot of confinement. But isn’t this how we travel through life sometimes? We are always maneuvering within the constrictions of our own reality. The characters within RADIO GOLF are finding and losing themselves within the confines of theirs.
The setting is 1997, the Hill District of Pittsburgh, an African American community that has long since lost its neighborhood soul and is teetering between the promises and perils of gentrification. Real estate developer Harmond Wilks (Allen Gilmore), his wife Mame Wilks (Ann Joseph) — who oversees the day to day business affairs of the company — and his business partner Roosevelt Hicks (James Vincent Meredith) set out to revitalize Wilks’ childhood community, with the promise of building new businesses that will include a Starbucks and a Whole Foods. New construction implants are a familiar reminder of just how long Black families have been pushed out of their neighborhoods to make way for new wealth. Entire communities filled with a rich history that has birthed several generations have succumbed to gentrification.
Wilks inherited his profitable business through his father’s legacy, something not many Blacks are fortunate enough to claim. Most of his life was thoroughly planned out by his father — he just had to adhere to the plan. He is a man of principle and law, but he finds himself at the crossroads in life where he must uncover who he is as a Black man. Allen Gilmore is utter perfection in this role. He has this inexhaustible range that is quite captivating. At the onset, Wilks is a simple man, but internally encapsulates so much vulnerability. Gilmore poetically extracts these cracks within Wilks, as he gives us a man shedding his old self to gain a greater understanding of his purpose.
So many Black men feel that they are working up against America’s clock and are only living for the present. James Vincent Meredith conveys this through his larger than life Roosevelt, a man who defines himself by how much money he makes and nothing more. Meredith’s on-stage flare magnifies this hidden sense of emptiness and lack of identity that plagues his character. Roosevelt wants the White man’s riches but doesn’t know his own worth. He believes he has a seat at the table but his legs will never be long enough to pull his chair up next to the rich White men he admires.
At the center of this story, we meet Sterling Johnson (James T. Alfred) and Elder Joseph Barlow (Alfred H. Wilson) who are residents of the Hill community. Though they represent two different generations of Black men, they both share in the experience of being ostracized by society. Black men are constantly plagued by the feeling of not belonging and are in constant search of their identity as men within America. Alfred and Wilson bring so much power to the stage. Their wit brilliantly captures two men from the “neighborhood” with layered personalities of each character.
Radio Golf ends where we are today. It is a story with an open ending because all the parts are still moving. Great writing time travels and breathes meaning into an entirely different dimension while gaining even greater relevancy to newcomers.
RADIO GOLF runs through September 30th. For more information visit CourtTheatre.org.