Audiences who emerge from Everyman Theatre’s production of “Radio Golf” can be forgiven if they temporarily can’t remember in which city they’ve parked their cars.
August Wilson’s show technically is set in Steelers’ territory. But it contains so many situations reminiscent of Baltimore that audience members might find themselves wondering if the two cities have merged their borders overnight.
“I was struck by how intensely relevant and timely 'Radio Golf’ is to Baltimore at this very moment,” Vincent Lancisi, Everyman’s artistic director, said. "The themes of urban renewal, gentrification, and honoring our past while paving the way towards the future are critical at this juncture. "
Harmond Wilks (Jamil A.C. Mangan) condemns police brutality in this scene from "Radio Golf."
After “Radio Golf” debuted on Broadway in 2007 19 months after Wilson’s death, critical consensus was that it was the weakest of the 10 plays in his century cycle chronicling the African American experience.
But what’s striking about “Radio Golf” from the perspective of 2019 is how uncompromising it is, how prescient. Set in 1997, it’s the only one of the ten plays to take place more or less in the present day, when some African Americans have reached the middle class and are reaping the economic and social benefits.
Wilson thinks that upward mobility has come at enormous cost. “Radio Golf” is unsparing of black Americans whom the playwright believes have turned their backs on the community from which they sprang.
“This is a play that brings class issues to the forefront," said Carl Cofield, associate artistic director of the Classical Theatre of Harlem, and “Radio Golf’s” director. "There’s a big conversation going on about this right now nationally but also in Baltimore. And that’s a conversation that for a long time was taboo.”
Below is comparison between plot points in “Radio Golf” and real-life events you might have read about in this newspaper.
The ambitious and hard-working Harmond Wilks is an Ivy League-educated black man who inherited a real estate business from his father. He has developed close ties to the business community — ties expected to help him become Pittsburgh’s first black mayor. As the play begins, Wilks is about to declare his candidacy.
The ambitious and hard-working Catherine Pugh developed close ties to the business community while working as a business school dean, media executive and owner of her own public relations firm. These ties helped her rise steadily in politics and win election as Baltimore’s 50th mayor in 2016.
As the play begins, Wilks is about to embark upon a real estate deal that will make him rich and that he believes will revitalize his struggling childhood neighborhood. Bedford Hills Redevelopment will include the construction of two luxury apartment buildings and such upscale enterprises as a Starbucks, Whole Foods and Barnes & Noble.
There’s just one problem — a vacant house located in the middle of the site that’s scheduled to be torn down was obtained through an illegal arrangement between Wilks and other Pittsburgh power brokers.The rightful owner refuses to sell.
Right now, only a few people are aware of the scam. But, if the news gets out, it could jettison Wilks’ promising political career.
In early 2019, Pugh was heavily favored to win re-election as Baltimore’s mayor. Then, in March, the Baltimore Sun reported that she had received $500,000 since 2011 for her self-published series of “Healthy Holly” children’s books. The no-bid book sale was made while Pugh sat on the board of the University of Maryland Medical System.
“All my income is reported to the IRS and everything is filed. I don’t know what witch hunt y’all are on, but it’s done. I’ve got 1099s and I pay my taxes and everything is filed.”
On April 25, agents from the FBI raided Pugh’s home and city hall office and carried out boxes of material, including her emails and other computer records.
It remains unclear what potential crimes federal authorities are investigating, and no one has been charged.
The planned demolition
A run-down, dilapidated house in Pittsburgh is scheduled to be knocked down. Taxes on the property haven’t been paid in 12 years and it’s smack in the middle of the planned Bedford Hills Redevelopment.
But the house at 1839 Wylie Avenue isn’t just any house. It’s the former home of Aunt Ester, the 366-year-old matriarch and soothsayer who appears in several plays in Wilson’s landmark century cycle chronicling the African American experience.
Though Aunt Ester has died before “Radio Golf” begins, her essence lingers. The first time Harmond enters the house, he picks up ancient vibrations.
“If you run your hand slow over the wood, you can make out these carvings," he says. "There’s faces. Lines making letters. An old language. ... And the air in the house smells sweet like a new day.”
The disagreement over the house’s fate threatens a marriage and ends a longtime friendship.
A run-down, dilapidated house in Baltimore is scheduled to be knocked down by the end of the year. Urban developers hope to revitalize the neighborhood by turning it into a park.
The proposed park is supported by much of the community. But some relatives, including Calloway’s grandson Peter Brooks, staunchly oppose razing the rowhouse. Brooks wants the property to be turned into a music studio and visitors’ center honoring the band leader’s legacy.
Tensions in the dispute are running high and have involved name-calling and accusations of underhanded behavior and bad faith. The fate of the house has pitted one of Calloway’s daughters, Cabella, who is in favor of the demolition, against his grandson, Peter Brooks, who is leading the opposition.
Harmond: An innocent man gets shot by the police and the officer gets away with it and he gets a promotion? ... Is the man still dead? Is the officer who killed him still getting a raise and Christmas bonus every year? And a goddamn turkey to boot! Yeah I’m angry. Aren’t you?
Freddie Gray, 25, died on April 19, 2015 from injuries to his spinal cord that he suffered one week earlier while riding in a police van.
Six Baltimore police officers were later charged with manslaughter and other crimes in connection with Gray’s death. All eventually were either acquitted of criminal wrongdoing, or the charges against them were dropped. The six were reinstated on the police department and later returned to work.