The house at 1839 Wylie is not for sale.
Or at least, that is what Harmond Wilks’s campaign team wants you to think. Harmond Wilks himself is a bit more conflicted.
The house in question belongs to a woman named Aunt Esther, one of the recurring characters throughout American playwright August Wilson’s ten-part series, “The Century Cycle,” which explores the Hill District of Pittsburgh where he grew up. Wilson’s final play “Radio Golf,” which opened at Everyman Theatre last Friday, tells the story of a black man running for mayor and his struggles to understand the community he wants to connect with.
That man is Harmond Wilks, played by Jamil A. C. Mangan, an Ivy League-educated man and the inheritor of his father’s successful real estate business. Wilks has big dreams of reinvigorating the Hill District with high-rise apartment buildings, a Whole Foods and Starbucks. His wife, Mame, played by Resident Company member Dawn Ursula, and friend and business partner, Roosevelt Hicks, played by Jason B. McIntosh, make up Wilks’s campaign team. They hold that same dream of redevelopment and will stop at nothing to see it happen, including lying about the ownership of 1839 Wylie in order to see it demolished for the redevelopment project to take place.
The entire play takes place inside Wilks’s campaign office, and over the course of the show’s two hour and ten minute run time, characters pop in and out of the office. Rounding out the cast are Elder Joseph Barlow (Charles Dumas) and Sterling Johnson (Anton Floyd), residents of the Hill District in opposition to the demolition of the house. They believe that redevelopment would diminish the community aspect of the district rather than reinvigorate it.
Floyd, who acts as the voice of the people of the Hill District throughout the play, is a standout among the small cast. He provides the play’s voice of reason and, sometimes, comic relief. But the way he listens to the other actors on stage with him is what really sets him apart: He is attentive without being fake.
This authenticity is not achieved by all actors, however. McIntosh’s portrayal of Hicks was great when he was feeling the role, but fell flat just as often. Additionally, actors consistently stumbled over lines, interrupting the flow of conversation. At times, it felt as if I was watching a dress rehearsal, and I hope these mistakes can be ironed out further in the run.
The play explores the topics of assimilation and gentrification, and is eerily reminiscent of modern-day Baltimore despite having been written about Pittsburgh in the late 90s. The play’s opening night performance was dedicated to Elijah Cummings, a Maryland representative who recently passed away. The dedication was fitting for a man who had emphasized social justice issues and worked to make sure every voice was heard during his career in public service.
“Radio Golf” is running through Nov. 17 at the Everyman Theatre. Everyman features a $10 student rush for B location seating 30 minutes before every scheduled performance and is offered to those with a valid student ID. Additionally, all Sunday evening performances are $10 for students in B location seating with a valid ID. Full price tickets can be purchased for $43-$52.
Photo Credit: (left to right) Anton Floyd and Jamil A.C. Mangan perform in “Radio Golf.” Photo by Teresa Castracane Photography.