I highly recommend Radio Golf at the Mark Taper Forum. An incredibly significant play, superbly acted. Tragedy or comedy? Redemption or come uppance? Principled or foolhardy?
August Wilson's skilled hand kept me on seat's edge watching four characters careen out of control. The fate of a crazy old man's home, a working man's job, a politician's ambitions teetering on a real estate developer's ethics. I saw the play Saturday afternoon. The full house agonizing against a tragic outcome set off a palpable tension. We were putty in the director Kenny Leon's hands.
A charismatic real estate developer-cum-mayoral hopeful and his outspoken golf-loving banker partner-they are life long friends--open the drama with ingratiating repartee and a funny ribald disquisition on golf by the eloquent banker.
The developer wants a clinic named for the first black RN in Pittsburgh. The banker could give a hoot. The developer wants to run for mayor and bring about change. He has a conscience. The banker will go along with anything that doesn't cost him money. The developer hangs an inspiring poster of Martin Luther King, Jr. The banker hangs Tiger Woods.
Then stuff gets complicated. The partners discover they don't own the house at 1839, slated for demolition next Thursday." So who gives a f*ck?" is the banker's position, it's a technicality.
The audience cares a lot. August Wilson, the playwright, crowns a 10-play cycle with this gem. The plays revolve around the people in the house at 1839. I'm hoping Wilson publishes them in a single collection. If he does, reading the plays will be totally worthwhile, and sadly, the only way most audiences will be able to share the plays. I suspect, though, Radio Golf will be like Death of a Salesman, around for years.
The world comes crashing down on the principled candidate. Will he lose everything, fortune, political opportunity, the development? Will the righteously bitter old man lose his home totally confused but outraged at his impotence? Will the working man lose a last chance for dignified work that lets him set his own limits? Curtain.
Intermission, play-goers chatter about high rollers and playing golf. Denials the old man would lose the house. Wonder at how Wilson would get the politician out of the mess. An essential pessimism for the outcome seems to settle the matter.
There's some delicious stuff about segregation and a huge riff on what chicanas chicanos call the crabs issue. Who's holding down whom? Who's making something of themselves? The working man puts all the money in his pocket on the table, challenges the banker to put all his money on the table. The banker sneers, “I'd need a wheelbarrow”. The working man paints fierce warrior streaks on his face. The banker declares the fool failed to think it through and now has to get that paint off his skin. The working man, though, has made his point with exactitude: "I recognize you," he tells the banker, "You are a Negro." Among other things.
The old man--in another scene stealer-- goes into a rage about "self segregation," talking about 1200 student bodies in the college cafeteria, how the six black kids enrolled eat together, cluster together. "I don't hear anyone saying anything about the 1,994 white kids clustering together!"
The scene is 1997, which doesn't prevent Wilson's sounding a powerfully resonant antiwar message. A flag lapel and a tear for a twin brother KIA Vietnam, sends the old man into a harrowing tale of picking up the U.S. flag from a fallen comrade in the heat of an infantry assault, only to walk a Georgia street where a cracker rips the lapel pin off the veteran's coat, shouting about having no right to wear the flag.
This is live teatro at its finest. Radio Golf marks the final production of Gordon Davidson's career at the Taper. You may think that's no big deal, but the tipo who's taken over for Gordy really sucks out loud.
The five person cast make the trip to music center hill and $9 parking well worth it. Radio Golf will make you think. Make you cry. Have you on the edge of your seat hoping for, yet fearing, redemption.
Through September 18 at the Mark Taper Forum. Los Angeles.