Radio Golf (The Century Cycle #10), by August Wilson
In this play the author ends his century cycle where he began it, at the very same address, in struggling with the reality and the rhetoric of urban renewal in 1990’s Pittsburgh. As someone who was born in the area (in McKeesport, to be precise) and who had a blue collar father who was a diary farmer and bus driver, I found myself unusually interested in the struggles of my home city during my youth, and found myself as ambivalent as the author was in the revival that the city found based on health care companies and a much smaller economic and demographic base than it had previously had as an industrial city. This play shows that same ambiguity, albeit from the point of view of two brothers who are seeking to profit from urban renewal but still have to deal with the past when it comes to 1839 Wylie, a house that had a great deal of importance in an earlier play by the same playwright. With this saga you can sense that the new beginning for Pittsburgh involved obliterating and thus failing to respect or learn from a worthwhile if rather complicated past, something that happens all too often in such efforts.
Radio Golf takes its title from the radio show of one of the two brothers, a bank executive who leaves his work based on the profitable relationship he has as a local front man for a wealthy if highly controversial businessman. The increasing success gained from that status as a local point man for efforts at urban renewal and development seems to go to his head, and it certainly estranges him from his brother, also a developer but someone who has a growing degree of respect for the local black citizens whose homes are being condemned as blighted property and being forced out so that this renewal can happen, and who also has political ambitions to be mayor. The tension between the brothers increases as we find out in the face of threats to their success how far they are willing to go to defend what they believe is right, and how profit and opportunity can serve to alienate one from family as well as one’s past when they become viewed as burdens to be overcome rather than sources of strength that one can keep strong in the face of life’s difficulties.
This particular play serves as the ending of Wilson’s epic ten-play cycle about black life in Pittsburgh during the 20th century, and it is a bittersweet ending. As the author has done throughout the series, he shows here that some of the most important enemies of the black community are their own leaders and their own people. Far too many people will take advantage of others in the search of their own profit and their own opportunity, and it is hard to maintain cohesion in a community in the face of such fractures and lack of trustworthiness. The efforts by Roosevelt Hicks to enjoy the good life end up estranging him from those he should hold dear, and if it does not trouble him now, it may have consequences later on if he feels taken advantage of later on, as seems likely to happen. But with the physical remnants of the past destroyed so that urban renewal can take place, the author seems to make it difficult for the blacks of Pittsburgh and so many other places to find a spiritual renewal that allows them to come to terms with their complex past, and since the author died soon after this play was finished, this play stands as the last testament to his effort to capture the life of blacks in his hometown over the 20th century.