Two River Theater and WBGO Team Up for Live Discussion of August Wilson's 'Radio Golf'

Feb 21, 2020

Obie Award-winning actor and director Brandon J. Dirden (King Hedley II, Seven Guitars) returns to Two River Theater in Red Bank, N.J., to direct the theater's sixth production from playwright August Wilson's The American Century Cycle.

Radio Golf is the Cycle's 10th and final play, set in 1997 in Pittsburgh's Hill District. It will run from Feb. 29 through March 22 at Two River's Joan and Robert Rechnitz Theater in Red Bank, N.J.

Dirden and award-winning actor Wayne DeHart, who portrays Elder Joseph Barlow, joined WBGO News Director Doug Doyle for a live panel discussion before a packed house at Two River's Center for New Work, Education and Design -Hackensack Meridian Health Riverview Medical Center Studio B.

A live panel discussion about August Wilson's "Radio Golf" drew a packed house at Two River Theater. The show begins February 29 and runs through March 22
Credit Yurik L. Lozano

Dirden has also starred in August Wilson shows, including his emotional performance as "Booster" in Broadway's Jitney which won a Tony Award for Best Revival and was directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson.  Dirden also wowed August Wilson craving audiences when he played "Levy" in Two River Theater's Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. 

"Radio Golf" was August Wilson's last play. He died before it made it's Broadway debut in 2007.
Credit Two River Theater

You could say August Wilson is in Dirden's blood and director has said the late playwright has "earned the level of excitment" he has received in recent years with so many of his shows being performed at local theaters and on Broadway, as well as the much audience-heralded 2016 movie Fences starring Denzel Washington.

"What August was able to do in his all too short lifetime with his ten play American Century Cycle was to chronicle the life experience of a particular group of people.  And that particular group is  African American people in the Hill District in Pittsburgh, with the exception of one play Ma Rainey's Black Bottom which is set in Chicago, but through this particular we see the universal.   That's the genius of August Wilson.  And many will point to the same breathe as the genius of a William Shakespeare or a Tennessee Williams or a Eugene O'Neill is through specificity were are able to see our universality.  But also to really celebrate to see what is of value in the specifics of the way that these people that populate August Wilson's environment to see that inherent value and humanity in this particular group of people which I think is all too often overlooked by a myriad of circumstances in this country.  We celebrate August's genius for elevating this often overlooked way of life.  He elevates it properly to where it belongs which is at the greater center of humanity."

Stage set provided by scenic designer Ed Haynes
Credit Two River Theater

Wayne DeHart has been involved with eight of the ten plays in the American Century Cycle and was thrilled when contacted by Dirden to play "Elder Joseph Barlow" in Radio Golf.  What has DeHart learned about August Wilson from all his performances?

"His characters listen to each other and so it makes me listen to people more.  If I see somebody that looks a certain way I say 'there's' a story behind that.'  So many of his shows have these life lessons that you learn.  They teach you how to lean toward that decision making.  I tend to listen to people more.  I tend to find out what their story is before I judge them."

Dirden says the first person he reached out to was DeHart when putting together the cast.

"He's a statesman of Houston, Texas.  He's a staple there.  He's one of the most revered actors in Houston.  Through my travels around the country as an actor and director one thing I've come to learn is that greatness knows no boundaries.  It has no zip code.  Me being here as part of the Two River Family and wanting to honor you all who honor us with your presence, time and commitment and your participating in this journey as we celebrate August together, I want to bring you the best.  Immediately, the first call that I made when John (Dias) asked me to direct this play, I said I can do this but I have to have Wayne DeHart."

The director Brandon J. Dirden (far left) and cast of "Radio Golf" at Two River Theater, including Wayne DeHart (far right)
Credit Yurik L. Lozano

DeHart is joined in the cast by Carl Hendrick Louis (Harmond Wilks), Amber Iman (Mame Wilks), Robbie Williams (Roosevelt Hicks) and Nathan James (Sterling Johnson).

In Radio Golf, real-estate developer Harmond Wilks is determined to become the first black mayor of Pittsburgh, and to revitalize the Hill District.  Starbucks, Barnes & Noble and Whole Foods are ready to move in.  But one particular house on the development site, at 1839 Wylie Avenue, must be torn down, a casualty of urban blight.  And that house belonged to Wilson's legendary Aunt Ester, forcing Harmond, and the Hill District itself, into a battle between the past and the future.  

August Wilson died from liver cancer in October of 2005 and didn't see the Broadway premier of Radio Golf until 2007.  Radio Golf was a Tony Award nominee for Best Play that year.  The New York Times said the show was "Surprising, suspenseful, and crowd-rousing.  The final play in August Wilson's magnificent century cyle has crackling comedy, engaging snap and theatrical zest."

Click above to hear the entire live panel discussion which also included some questions from the audience.