“Radio Golf” Sets the Year’s Performances Bar High

The lights disappear over the small theater’s audience, every seat filled, and are replaced by glaring bulbs on stage. It’s the moment where a room full of strangers come together to suspend disbelief and fall away into a performance that seems entirely real. On this night, the show is Radio Golf.

While this is something of a review, I’m usually not much for writing my feelings about things openly in first person. However, I’m making an exception because this will end up just as much a commentary on the world of theatre within Penn State as it will be a review of the play.

I entered the Penn State Downtown Theatre Center with high expectations. Of the five characters in Jade King Carroll’s direction of August Wilson’s play, I’d had the privilege of meeting or watching performances from four of the five. The cast consisted of Penn State theatre professor Dr. Charles Dumas, M.F.A. actors Andy Lucien, Reggie Powell and Bianca Washington, and former Penn State graduate actor and current actor/writer/director Herb Newsome.

The play did not disappoint. Radio Golf is the last of a series of ten plays by August Wilson that cover an entire century of  the African American experience in America. It also hits close to home for many Penn Stater’s, as nine of the ten stories, including Radio Golf, are set in the Hill District of Pittsburgh.

In Radio Golf, the year is 1997 and Lucien’s character Harmond Wilks is running for mayor while also attempting to revive the Hill District through renovations. Washington plays Wilks’s wife Mame and Newsome plays his business partner Roosevelt Hicks. Unfortunately, rebuilding in the area means tearing down an old house owned by Dumas’ character Old Joe that Powell’s character Sterling Johnson is fixing up despite the impending bulldozing.

The plot is fairly simple but the story is driven by the clash of Wilks’ desire to further himself while also maintaining his morals. The play is extremely powerful but doesn’t often appear that way because there are very few striking emotional moments. Wilks’ struggle over right and wrong exists as the main line of drama throughout the entire story.

I often gauge a play’s value by the intensity of my thoughts during and after the performance. While that’s not always a fair assessment, as some plays are meant more for entertainment than contemplation or learning, it usually works well. I’d argue that’s a fair way of critiquing Radio Golf, and because of that I left the theater extremely pleased with what I had witnessed.

Which leads me to an even broader point: Penn State is my Broadway.

Gasp! I know, I know, the theatre inclined are likely losing it. But I’m serious. As much as I’d like to, I have no idea when or if I’ll ever see a show on Broadway. What I do know is that here at Penn State we’ve got some of the most talented individuals I’ve ever seen. And when you put them together on stage, magic happens.

Also, this isn’t just about the professionals, graduate actors and theatre majors. The talents of the individuals in the Penn State Thespians, No Refund Theatre and every other performance based club or group at the University are countless. We as a student body should take pride that we’re multitalented and are overflowing with potential. Radio Golf was brilliant, but what makes it even greater is that it sets the stage for another year of amazing plays, musicals and performances from the Penn State community.

Radio Golf closes on Saturday but there’s still time to pick up a ticket at the Downtown Theatre or Eisenhower Auditorium. From there, make sure to stay updated on performances from the School of Theatre, Penn State Thespians, No Refund Theatre, and One Stage Revolution. If I missed any, please add them in the comments.

The best part is that theatre only cracks the surface of the talents of Penn Staters. In fact, it can often be slightly depressing for a guy like me who’s only got his words. But there’s very few things I enjoy more than watching awe inspiring performances of any kind from my peers who I greatly respect. So please, Penn State, let the show go on.

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