Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Did Critics Find Radio Golf Up To Par?

Did Critics Find Radio Golf Up To Par?

Earlier this evening, August Wilson's Radio Golf opened at Broadway's Cort Theatre. Directed by Kenny Leon, the production stars Harry Lennix and Tonya Pinkins along with Anthony Chisholm, John Earl Jelks and James A. Williams.

Proclaiming "it's a beauty," Newsday's Linda Winer lavishes the play with praise: "Radio Golf may not be the deepest volume on Wilson's shelf....But Radio Golf, the 1990s chapter in Wilson's chronicle of Pittsburgh's Hill District, is not only his most contemporary work. It is also his most accessible, most structurally focused and most unambiguously political. The playwright rips the historical cover off his warning to blacks who forget to listen for ancestral footsteps. As we look back on the Wilson century, we see this is precisely where he always intended to go."

Offering three stars, Elysa Gardner of USA Today is mostly positive: "The language in Radio Golf, set in 1997, lacks some of the musical majesty of Wilson's earlier plays, but the distinction is purposeful and inevitable, like the difference between gospel and contemporary R&B, music that's more the realm of this play's baby-boomer characters. The dialogue's rhythms still crackle, and we're reminded of the blend of folksy poetry and fierce conscience that made Wilson one of this country's most essential artists....The cast, directed with rigor and wit by Kenny Leon, does justice to that legacy. All five actors are excellent, but James A. Williams deserves special credit for his nuanced portrait of Hicks."

Noting the play's "emotional, hopeful conclusion," the Associated Press' Michael Kuchwara is favorable: "[I]t is more plot heavy, although Kenny Leon's fast-paced direction doesn't make it seem laborious....[T]he play and the production feel complete. At the end of Radio Golf, Wilson has Harmond ready to go on -- but without forgetting the past. The 21st century awaits."

Calling the show "fascinating" in his three-star review, New York Post's Clive Barnes asks, "Is he being totally fair to the contemporary American black? Perhaps not. As a white man, I choose to believe not. But Wilson didn't have to be fair. He was a major, perhaps, who yet knows, even a great American playwright, and this was the story he wanted told. And it makes for great theater."

Also making inevitable comparisons to Wilson's preceding works, in this case that "it's less emotionally fulfilling than earlier installments," David Rooney of Variety tries to walk a fine line: "Despite the sensitive molding of director Kenny Leon, something is missing here. Most significantly, something is missing from the passive central character, Harmond Wilks (Harry Lennix), his shifting moral compass seemingly ruled not by inner workings but by narrative necessity....Unsurprisingly, Chisholm and Jelks give the production's most involving performances, unleashing some of Wilson's characteristically vibrant arias."

Labeling this the "thinnest work in (Wilson's) magificent 10-play cycle," The New York Times' Ben Brantley offers a rather melancholy review: "The symphonically rich and idiosyncratic talk that once rang through the Hill District of Pittsburgh, the African-American neighborhood where most of Mr. Wilson’s work is set, can be heard only faintly now. Pittsburgh, it would seem, has been stripped of its poetry....The momentum of Radio Golf is all in its twisting plot....On that level, Radio Golf has an engaging snap.....It is Mr. Wilson’s point, of course, that when people cut themselves off from their heritage, they cut themselves off from the source of their song."

Overall, these mostly favorable reviews may help make this play a cinch for a Best Play Tony nomination, especially considering that New York's Drama Critics Circle have already named this the Best American Play of the past year. Hopefully, the box office will respond accordingly.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for tickets.
Related Stories:
Radio Golf (The SOB Review) - Goodman Theatre, Chicago, IL (February 7, 2007)
Did Critics Find Radio Golf On Par With Wilson's Other Works? (January 25, 2007)
Radio Golf Tunes Into Chicago Opening Tonight (January 23, 2007)
Reports: August Wilson's Radio Golf To Swing Into Cort (January 15, 2007)

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