Review: 'Radio Golf' star Andre Grayson shines in Theatre North play
BY JAMES D. WATTS JR. World Scene Writer
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
2/26/13 at 7:13 AM
"Radio Golf" comes in loud and clear whenever Andre Grayson is on stage.
Grayson plays Sterling Johnson in Theatre North's production of this play by August Wilson, which opened this past weekend at the Tulsa PAC.
Sterling is an ex-con turned neighborhood handyman, who shows up periodically at the office of Harmond Wilks (Garnett Burkhalter), a real estate developer who is angling to become the first African-American mayor of Pittsburgh, Pa.
Grayson fully embodies this character, who in spite of his checkered past has a rock-solid sense of right and wrong - and who understands that doing the right thing rarely if ever means doing the easy thing.
Because the easy thing is what Harmond Wilks has been doing for much of his life - taking over the real estate business his father established, surrounding himself with a wife, Mame (Britanny Carter), and an associate, Roosevelt Hicks (Kenneth Page), who facilitate his entry into the worlds of politics and finance.
Everything hinges on clearing away a derelict house in the Hill District, one of the city's most ignored neighborhoods, to make room for a multimillion-dollar development.
Then a guy calling himself Old Joe (Rob Lee) shows up, claiming it's his house and he doesn't want it destroyed. And Wilks, for the first time in his life, must make a decision: hold on to his past, or allow himself to be swallowed up by progress.
"Radio Golf" was the last play August Wilson completed before his death in 2005, bringing to a close his ambitious cycle of 10 plays, one for each decade of the 20th century, focusing on the struggles of those who called the Hill District home, and how those struggles reflect the African-American experience in those years.
Set in 1997, "Radio Golf" is, in one sense, about gentrification, about putting up facades, about turning over one's past for someone else's idea of the present.
And it falls to the character Sterling to keep pointing that out - whether through his "resume" of places he's fixed, his formation of his own union, or his way of dealing with the bag of contraband golf clubs.
Grayson has such a command of this character that he energizes every scene he's in. It would have served Theatre North's production greatly if the rest of the cast, under Rodney L. Clark's direction, had brought a similar sense of focus and purpose to their characters.
Mame, Wilks' politically ambitious wife, is woefully underwritten, but Carter makes the most out of what she's given. As Old Joe, Lee pontificates humorously on all sorts of subjects, yet he treats almost all his lines as if they were soliloquies addressed to faceless others rather than the other characters on stage.
Page certainly looks the part as the stylish Hicks, a man determined to move himself into a higher tax bracket at any cost. Yet he delivers his lines as if each sentence needs some time to reach the audience before he can say the next one.
Unfortunately, Burkhalter's performance as Wilks is the weakest. For one thing, Burkhalter is much too young for the role - Wilks should be at least in his late 30s. And although there is a passive aspect to Wilks' character, Burkhalter never conveys much of anything other than passivity, with a monotone delivery in which the dull repetition of the word "man" quickly begins to grate.
"Radio Golf" continues with performances at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at the Tulsa PAC, 110 E. Second St. For tickets: 918-596-7111, tulsaworld.com/mytix
Original Print Headline: 'Radio Golf' star Grayson shines
James D. Watts Jr. 918-581-8478