Before succumbing to liver cancer at the age of 60 in 2005, two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner for drama August Wilson was able to complete “Radio Golf,” the tenth and final installment of his ambitious decades-long playwriting project that chronicled the black experience in America—“from property to people”—using a play for each decade of the twentieth century. “Radio Golf” also makes the Goodman the only theater in the country to have produced all ten plays in Wilson’s cycle. These alone are reasons enough to see it and I suspect that those who do will feel rewarded by the Goodman’s high production values, the most striking of which is designer David Gallo’s minutely detailed and naturalistic set, a cross-section of a condemned building that can best be described as a work of sumptuous squalor that takes your breath away upon entering the auditorium. It’s unfortunate that the play, a frustratingly uneven work in which Wilson’s trademark poetry and passion are overshadowed by heavy-handed pontification, melodramatic plotting and unresolved narrative strands, cannot deliver a similar punch in the gut. In addition, his characters do not develop much past their initial first impressions (the idealist, the sellout, the survivor, the philosophizer), and are not as diverse a sampling of the black community in 1997 as they could be. If they had been, then perhaps Wilson’s examination of assimilation, pride and racial self-oppression might have come across as more insightful and reflective of the times at the turn of the century. Perhaps it’s too much to expect that the then-52-year-old playwright would have been tapped into the black-cultural zeitgeist to write about it as satisfactorily as he has other plays within the cycle whose time periods are farther away from our own? Perhaps “Radio Golf’s” impact was intended to be more cumulative, especially for those who have seen other plays within the cycle than for those of us who have not? Perhaps Wilson would have edited the play with each subsequent production into something more memorable? Unfortunately for us and for future audiences of “Radio Golf,” we will never know. (Fabrizio O. Almeida)
Goodman Theatre, 170 North Dearborn, (312)443-3800. Wed 7:30pm/Thu 2 & 7:30 pm/Fri 8pm/Sat 2 & 8pm/Sun 2pm. $20-$68. Through Feb 18.