Theater Spotlight: Radio Golf

Abdul Salaam El Razzac (Elder Joseph Barlow) and James Craven (Harmond Wilks)
Lauren B. Photography
Abdul Salaam El Razzac (Elder Joseph Barlow) and James Craven (Harmond Wilks)

Details

RADIO GOLF
Penumbra Theatre

Radio Golf is the kind of show that sneaks up on you, at first seeming to lack the grand ambitions of the early works in playwright August Wilson's cycle of 20th-century dramas, until the old ghosts sneakily make their presence felt. The action takes place in a real-estate development office in the Hill District of Pittsburgh in 1997. Harmond Wilks (James Craven) has his eye on a massive gentrification project in the blighted neighborhood, with visions of Whole Foods, Starbucks, and a mayoral bid dancing in his eyes. He is partnered with buddy Roosevelt Hicks (Kevin D. West), an up-and-comer who juggles real estate, radio ownership, and a banking job in a bid to ascend to fat-cat status. Things go all wobbly, though, with the arrival of a pair of down-at-the-heels neighborhood types. First is Elder Joseph Barlow (Abdul Salaam El Razzac), an older man given to strange pontification, and also the legitimate owner of a house that stands in the way of Wilks's plan. Next is Sterling (Terry Bellamy), a somewhat shady contractor whose mounting grievance with Hicks's arrogance lends a subplot of malice. We're expecting epic twists and turns, this being Wilson, but something else emerges. Craven plays Wilks as a sharpie with insecurity nagging him at all times, and his character is gradually eaten away by Elder Joseph (El Razzac is magnetically sly, equal parts con artist and bitter prophet). Wilks's fall, and partial rebirth, are writ relatively small in a manner that allows for Lou Bellamy's direction to exploit whispers of the past. Little signposts emerge in the dialogue, when we realize that the home to be demolished had featured in Wilson's earlier work and that what we are seeing has tendrils that extend back to the arrival of the first slave ships in North America. There's a sense here that the old phantoms, while still present, have begun to fade with the passage of time, and that Wilson strove to depict that erosion by telling a different sort of story in a different manner. Radio Golf might well end up not being anyone's favorite Wilson play, but its solid delivery expands our vision of the previous century (and, yes, several that came before). $10-$38. 7:30 p.m. Wed.-Sat., 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sun. Penumbra Theatre, 270 N. Kent St., St. Paul; 651.224.3180. Through October 25

 
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