By Curt Columbus
WELCOME TO TRINITY REP and August Wilson’s Radio Golf. I am beyond excited to see this production on our Dowling stage, because it brings the powerful, haunting, and beautiful voice of Mr. Wilson back to our theater after many years’ absence. He is one of most important American playwrights of the last 50 years, someone who writes exquisitely crafted plays, yet someone who simultaneously challenges how we see the world and the American experience through the medium of theater.
Radio Golf is the last play Mr. Wilson ever wrote. It premiered at Yale Rep six months before he succumbed to cancer at the age of 60. It is also the final play in his “American Century Cycle,” a ten-play series that is set primarily in the Hill District neighborhood of Pittsburgh which captures a story from the African American experience in each decade of the 20th century. Therefore, while Radio Golf is set during the last decade of said century, it brings the accumulation of the history of this cycle and the many stories that have gone before to its present-tense situation.
And accumulation of history is central to the works of August Wilson. In telling the story of the African-American experience, he pulls from histories that stretch back hundreds of years and across the oceans and the nation. He leads us, as an audience, to recall the many stories of the past that live in the moments we see in the present before us. He brings, thrillingly, the poetic music of everyday speech to his theatrical events, challenging us to listen to the many melodies that live in the quotidian experience.
This is a central element of the genius of Mr. Wilson’s work — his ability to layer experiences, realities, and musicalities into seemingly naturalistic, theatrically traditional works. He once said about his playwriting, “My early attempts writing plays, which were very poetic, did not use the language that I work in now. I didn’t recognize the poetry in the everyday language of black America. I thought I had to change it to create art.” The greatness of his plays lies in their detailed, exquisitely wrought depictions of ordinary people, places, and times, all of which also rise to the level of great spiritual consideration and beauty.
Radio Golf is a timely and important play for the very reason that, on one level, it asks overt, political questions. How does a person deal with the demands of capitalistic success while remaining true to their past and their family? Why does success for some mean displacement, loss, and failure for others? But in addition to these more obvious questions, the play also asks us to consider large philosophical puzzles like, how do our ancestors live in our daily motions and interactions? Why does the past matter, so urgently, in a face-paced, modern world? And what does success really look like, if we take away the provocation and prodding of capitalism?
This production features the exciting, artistic reunion of director Jude Sandy and actor Joe Wilson Jr., the perfect Trinity Rep artists to bring this play and this playwright back to our stage. And we are also delighted to welcome Ricardo Pitts-Wiley back to Trinity Rep after a long absence. He is a venerable and powerful force in Rhode Island theater, a long-time collaborator and friend, and we are lucky to have him back with us on this journey.
Enjoy Radio Golf. I look forward to talking with you about the show and this amazing playwright, and to seeing you at the theater.