What is the cost of progress? A poignant question examined in Radio Golf, a play by August Wison, that examines a Black mayoral candidate on the verge of a business breakthrough set in the city of Pittsburgh in 1997.
The story follows real estate developers Harmond Wilks, played by Christian Telesmar, and his golfing buddy/business partner Roosevelt Hicks played by DeJuan Christopher, as they embark on revitalizing their old neighborhood in Pittsburgh’s Hill District through a mixed-use development that will wipe out “blight” in the area.
The buddies anxiously await the city council’s decision to declare the area blighted which is needed to access crucial federal funding for the development.
What stands in their way is one home owned by Joseph Barlow played by Alex Morris, who insists his home was taken from him without notice. The home has since been acquired by Wilks, who then sold it to the development company he co-owns with Hicks.
After listening to Barlow’s insistence that the home was taken from him without proper notice, Wilks investigates and finds the City sold it to him without the required 30 day notice, which kicks off a battle between him and Hicks on how to move forward.
Unexpected twists and turns shows Wilks having a change of heart when he discovers that he and Barlow are related. At this moment he seeks to alter the development, which inadvertently alters his path to the mayor’s office.
He wants to save Barlow’s home by keeping it intact and reducing the size of the project. It’s akin to the scene from Disney’s Up where an elderly couple fought to keep their home as the area gentrified around them.
Harmond’s wife Mame played by Sydney A. Mason is set on getting Harmond elected mayor which could land her a coveted job in the Governor’s office. As she tries unsuccessfully to persuade him that he needs to move forward with the project as is her professional opportunity is in jeopardy.
Local handyman Sterling Johnson played by Matt Orduña, steps in to help Barlow not only save his home but to also question Harmond’s integrity knowing he acquired Barlow’s home illegally.
The all Black cast did an excellent job of displaying a cohesive team which kept the audience engaged, laughing, and rooting for Barlow.
We also began to question the callous nature of Hicks who attempts to use Barlow and Johnson’s questionable past against them in order to invalidate their argument to save Barlow’s home.
We also saw Harmond become more empathetic to Barlow’s plight and his efforts to do right by him.
Harmond’s change of mind led the proposed anchor tenants: Barnes & Noble, Starbucks, and Whole Foods to get skittish and want to back out of the project until Roosevelt steps in to save the deal which means severing business ties with Harmond and replacing him with a White partner.
“Don’t take no wooden nickels,” said Harmond to Roosevelt as he kicked him out of his office.
This brings us back to the question, what’s the price of progress?
This play resonated with me as I watch the same scenario play out in real time in my hometown of Inglewood, Calif.
The City has benefitted from creating a blighted area that allowed the current mayor and council to push through large scale redevelopment projects at the expense of long-time residents.
Residents are being forced into paying higher costs to live in the City for the sake of progress.
The mayor and council are no different than Roosevelt Hicks who will diminish the residents’ thoughts and questions about the development, and will then weaponize the city’s police department to squash public discourse.
The City also suppresses the surge in crime to not scare off investors.
The price of progress is dehumanizing and devaluing those who are already living in the City in favor of either achieving an elected position or money or a combination of the two.
The price of progress is being so cold hearted that your integrity is non-existent.
The price of progress is pitting “good” Blacks against “bad” Blacks for the sake of a dollar.
“The worst kind of knee-grow is the one who does the bidding of the White man,” said Johnson to Hicks. And he’s right.
The mayor of Inglewood gets away with a lot of questionable actions because he is doing the White man’s bidding in ridding the City of blight aka poor people for the sake of progress and what the City wants, the City gets whether its 1997 Pittsburgh or modern day Inglewood.
I urge my readers to make the trip to Pasadena to see this play. You will enjoy it just as much as I did.
Radio Golf is the last play written by famous playwright August Wilson. It was written in 2005 and is the final part of Wilson’s Pittsburgh Cycle, a series of ten plays that cover the lives of African-Americans in every decade in the 20th century. The plays were inspired by the author’s childhood in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Corresponding to the last decade of the century.
Performances of Radio Golf take place October 22 through November 13 on Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.; Fridays at 8 p.m.; Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.; and Sundays at 2 p.m. (no 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday, Oct. 22, dark Thursday, Oct. 27). Four preview performances take place on Sunday, Oct. 16 at 2 p.m.; Wednesday, Oct. 19 and Thursday, Oct. 20 at 7:30 p.m.; and Friday, Oct. 21 at 8 p.m.
Tickets start at $25. Student tickets start at $18. Tickets to the preview on Friday, Oct. 21 will be Pay What You Choose, with tickets starting at $5 (available online beginning at 12 p.m. the Monday prior to that performance). Discounts are available for groups of 10 or more.
A Noise Within is located at 3352 E Foothill Blvd., Pasadena, CA 91107. Free parking is available at the Sierra Madre Villa Metro parking structure,149 N. Halstead St.
To purchase tickets and for more information, including up-to-date Covid-19 safety protocols on the date of each performance, call (626) 356-3100 or go to www.anoisewithin.org.