Radio Golf at the Indiana Repertory Theatre: A Bold Failure

Radio Golf is a perfect encapsulation of everything there is to love and hate about the IRT.

I love their bold vision in staging August Wilson’s racially provocative Radio Golf here in Indy, just steps from the Madame C.J. Walker Theatre, and where we pretend race is an issue of the past. Radio Golf is the last of Wilson’s ten-part play chronicling the African American experience in the 20th century. Set in the 1990s, the play follows real estate developer and would-be mayor of Pittsburgh Harmond Wilks (James Craven)as he attempts to revitalize his boyhood neighborhood. A moral wrench is thrown into his plans when Old Joe (Abdul Salam El Razzac) claims he still owns the old house that must be demolished for the new construction.

James Craven stars as aspiring politician Harmond Wilks
I hate the script. Hate it, hate it, hate it. Plot holes abound (Starbucks, Whole Foods AND Barnes and Nobles were all going to build in a neighborhood where you have to pay people to watch your car or risk losing your golf clubs?)and the plot veers onto nonsensical tangents. While this might have been a tight, 90-minute play, its two and a half hour running time feels bloated and indulgent.

I love how at the IRT the most talented actors usually have the smallest parts, desperately leaving me wanting more, especially Austene Van as Harmon’d long-suffering wife, and Razzac, who delivers an idiosyncratic but inspired performance.

Austene Van and Abdul Salam El Razzac shine

I hate that the direction always lacks subtlety. Why whisper when a shout will do? The entire second half seems to devolve into yelling and accusations–you sold out! You kissed the white man’s ass! Any nuance is lost in a sea of shouting.

I love the gorgeous set and lighting design. It’s never less than spectacular, from the gently peeling paint and exposed utility panels to the gentle glow of dawn or the drab hum of fluorescent lights. The sets at the IRT are always a treat.

Unfortunately, I have to dub Radio Golf a failure, but it’s mostly due to the aforementioned bloated and rambling script. But it’s a bold failure: bold for the IRT to choose the show and present it as they did. And I admire them greatly for that. Don’t ever stop pushing that envelope, guys. Sometimes a bold failure is better than a safe success.

Radio Golf plays at the IRT through January 29, 2012. Tickets are available at My tickets were provided courtesy IRT. Please note I attended a preview performance, so details may change in the final production.