In 2005, August Wilson wrote his final play, Radio Golf. Wilson was dying of cancer, but managed to complete his epic 10-part series, the Pittsburgh Cycle, which covers 100 years of life in the Hill District. Each play takes place in a different decade, and Radio Golf, the cycle's finale, represents the 1990s. Some months after writing it, Wilson passed away.
The Pittsburgh Cycle is a phenomenal gift to world literature, and we are a very fortunate generation to receive the full canon. But of all the plays in this decameron, Radio Golf is particularly special to the Steel City: Yes, it takes place in 1997, but all the politics, references, issues and ugly questions survive to this moment. Mayoral candidates still come with baggage. Ethnic relations are still tense. Poverty and wealth still exist alongside each other, and sometimes only a street -- or a name -- separates them. Radio Golf premiered at Yale University, but nobody in Connecticut could possibly understand this play as well as we do.
Kuntu Repertory Theatre has staged a powerful production of Radio Golf, and it's a point of pride that Wilson's masterpiece has again come home. Wilson's world is huge and complex, but you need not have seen the nine dramas that precede this story. Just know that the house at 1839 Wylie Avenue is a recurring character, starting with the chronologically first play, Gem of the Ocean, set in 1904. And now, as Radio Golf opens, a couple of young, ambitious developers have decided to tear it down -- having no idea of its significance.
Kuntu has cast some unusually young actors, but their age is deceiving. Though most have just graduated college, they perform with formidable maturity. Eric Berryman plays Harmond Wilks, the first black man to realistically run for mayor of Pittsburgh; Berryman is in his 20s, but he performs with an Obama-esque verve and formality.
Wilks' business partner is Roosevelt Hicks, an unabashedly self-centered entrepreneur, who aggressively discards his African-American roots; Hicks is aggressively played by Ruffin M. Prentiss III. Monteze Freeland is Elder Joseph Barlow, a kooky old man who throws a wrench in Wilks' election machine. This ensemble, complete with Lichelle Sade Byrd and Anton Floyd, works solidly together. Wilson would be delighted.
Vernell A. Lillie is both artistic director of Kuntu and director of Radio Golf. She has made a long career grooming young talent. Showcased so strongly, this might be the finest bunch yet.
Radio Golf continues through Sat., June 12. Kuntu Repertory Theatre, 4227 Fifth Ave., Oakland. 412-624-7298