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Hollywood Soapbox: INTERVIEW: August Wilson’s ‘Radio Golf,’ now at Two River Theater, still as important as ever

by John Soltes

Two River Theater in Red Bank, New Jersey, has dedicated itself over the past few years to the work of August Wilson, in particular his decalogue of plays examining the African-American experience in the 20th century, known as the American Century Cycle. Their latest production is Radio Golf, sequentially the last play in Wilson’s 10-show project, which runs through Nov. 21.

Radio Golf is an important piece that examines the intersection of politics and race. In the show, the character of Harmond Wilks (Carl Hendrick Louis) is a real-estate developer hoping to become the first Black mayor of Pittsburgh. Involved with the mayoral race is the gentrification of the local neighborhood and the fight over the development of a historic home in the Hill District. Brandon J. Dirden directs, and the ensemble includes Toccarra Cash, Wayne DeHart, Nathan James and Robbie Williams.

This production is an important one for Two River Theater because performances of Radio Golf were originally scheduled for March 2020, but the run was cut short because of the onset of the pandemic. Now the team is back, and after a year and a half, performances have started once again.

Recently Hollywood Soapbox exchanged emails with Cash, who plays Mame Wilks. She has appeared on Broadway in The Play That Goes Wrong and off-Broadway in Measure for Measure, Brothers from the Bottom, Playing With Fire and Napoli, Brooklyn. She also has extensive film and TV credits to her name. Questions and answers have been slightly edited for style.

What attracted you to the role of Mame Wilks? How would you describe her?

The thing that really attracts me to playing the role of Mame Wilks is her ambition, and I just love playing a driven, bada** woman (laughs). She may just be the most ambitious woman in the Century Cycle. She has an impressive career, and even loftier aspirations, which is significant during that time period of the ’90s, when we see women trying to crack that glass ceiling. And she’s managed not only to curate her own career, but help to shape her husband’s as well, operating in that “power couple” dynamic. She sees the sky as the limit for them both, if they just take the necessary steps and occasional sacrifices.

What do you find unique and powerful about the words of August Wilson?

August Wilson’s words are such a gift — they are a privilege and an honor to speak every time I’m granted the opportunity (this is my third Wilson play) because he speaks the language of my community so authentically. There is such beautiful, resonant poetry in the speech patterns and dialects of the African-American community, and that poetry has deep roots. And I feel those roots when I speak his words because it’s the way my mother speaks — my father, my grandparents, my aunts and uncles and cousins. It’s both familiar and familial, and indisputably American at its core. It’s our part of the American story because African-American history and culture is American history and culture.

What’s it like to work in this ensemble of actors?

It’s just dreamy — it really is. This ensemble has really lifted and supported me in joining them, since I’m the new kid on the block, having joined them for this remounted production after they were shut down mere days after opening last year due to COVID. And I couldn’t be more grateful for how patient and awesome they’ve been with me newly coming into the process. A really special part of all of this is being directed by one of my dear friends and mentors for many years, Brandon Dirden, and the super-fun icing on the cake is that one of the ensemble members just happens to be my real-life partner (Nathan James, who plays Sterling)!

Do you feel the lessons and takeaways of Radio Golf are still important to hear in 2021?

Not only do I feel the lessons and takeaways of Radio Golf are still important to hear in 2021, they are critical for where we are as a nation right now. I think the play asks big questions of us, of what part do we each want to play in continuing to shape the future of our democracy, especially when there are forces that are threatening democracy’s very existence in the last few years. And in playing your part, are you willing to listen to the voices that often go unheard? Do we want to erase history, or investigate and preserve it as a guide to how to move forward together? One powerful example of how this play is extremely timely and relevant right now is that while we were in rehearsals, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, just elected its first African-American mayor. And in this play, Harmond Wilks is running to be the first Black mayor of Pittsburgh. Like … August was downright prophetic with this one.

What’s your experience been like working at Two River Theater?

Two River Theater is hands down one of the best theatres I’ve ever had the pleasure of working for. The value with which they treat us as artists is unmatched. Every aspect — from administration, to staff, to backstage crew, to creative team, even down to the housing — they just make you feel like you’ve found an artistic home.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

August Wilson’s Radio Golf, featuring Toccarra Cash, plays through Nov. 21 at Two River Theater in Red Bank, New Jersey. Click here for more information and tickets.

Toccarra Cash stars in August Wilson’s Radio Golf. Photo courtesy of T. Charles Erickson / Provided by Two River Theater with permission.