Theater Review: RADIO GOLF (A Noise Within, Pasadena)

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by Tony Frankel on November 7, 2022

in Theater-Los Angeles


Pittsburgh in 1997 is the setting for the last of renowned playwright August Wilson’s series of 10 dramas that highlight aspects of African-American life in the 20th century. His is a play about gentrification, but a fascinating aspect of the 2005 work remains a rare conversation in today’s news. The property developers who are razing Black history – one house at a time in the now decrepit Hill District – are themselves Black. The tale centers on the wholly plausible Harmond Wilks (Christian Telesmar), a charming property developer who has high hopes that his revitalization will pave the way for him to become the city’s first Black mayor. The conflict for him and his golf-crazy business partner Roosevelt Hicks (DeJuan Christopher) arises with his plan to tear down a historic house which once belonged to Aunt Ester, an important character in Wilson’s other plays.

DeJuan Christopher, Christian Telesmar, Matt Orduña

Director Gregg T. Daniel, a Wilson aficionado, creates a production at A Noise Within which is more contemplative than it is urgent, and the actors follow suit. While still a recommended production, the first act meanders a bit, and could have been mined for more humor. This would have helped given that there is no happy-end rabbit in this plot, which is quite the point when you’re dealing with progress.

Christian Telesmar and Sydney A. Mason

In fact, ironically, ANW in a pre-curtain recording acknowledges that we are on the traditional lands of the Gabrielino-Tongva people, who some identify as Kizh. They even “recognize” their neighbors in the region, the Tataviam and Chumash people, who are also important cultural leaders in the region with the Gabrielino-Tongva people. What does this mean? Your land has been taken away, and we regret that, but we are not giving it back? (Similar liberal-guilt announcements are made at regional theaters across the country.)

Christian Telesmar, Matt Orduña, Alex Morris

For Harmond’s journey of self-discovery, Wilson insists that it’s much more complicated than lip-service to your community.  You can’t have it both ways. Harmond is awoken to this by a visit from the house’s current owner – the patriotic “Old Joe” (a vigorous and commanding Alex Morris) — whose difficult life has done nothing to dampen his stout beliefs in right and wrong. Another opposing force is Sterling Johnson (Matt Orduña), the righteous handyman with a conscience who, in layman’s terms, accurately puts the political maneuvering into perspective. Harmond is a natural politician and knows he is good at it, and his sharp and chic spouse Mame (Sydney A. Mason) knows just how good, and is already planning her future role as the first lady of a mayor, governor and maybe even a senator. When Harmond’s principles unravel her dreams, will she stay by his side?

Alex Morris and Christian Telesmar

Sound designer Jeff Gardner’s song selections are impeccable and Sybyl Wickersheimer’s set truly evokes a large neighborhood in transition, quite a feat given the thrust stage. Radio Golf — comparatively short for Wilson — delivers some remarkably unambiguous advocacy in its defense of the old Hill District neighborhood that inspired the previous plays. Compared to other works in the cycle, there are fewer symbols and less anecdotal exposition. One wonders if Wilson would have edited the work had he not succumbed to liver cancer at 60 before the play hit Broadway. Still, what remains constant is the big small talk that transforms every complex character into a one-person community. Since this is August Wilson, the five characters inevitably stand in for so many more, a few of whom may well be in the audience.

photos by Craig Schwartz

Radio Golf
A Noise Within, 3352 Foothill Blvd. in Pasadena
Thurs at 7:30 (September 9 0nly); Fri at 8; Sat at 2 and 8; Sun at 2
ends on November 13, 2022
for tickets, call 626.356.3121 or visit A Noise Within
free parking behind theater at the Sierra Madre Villa Metro parking structure

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