The Lower Bottom Playaz, Inc (LBP), a small scrappy theater company in Oakland CA, are about to become a part of theater history. They are in production for Radio Golf by August Wilson which will open on December 18, 2015 at The Flight Deck on Broadway. Radio Golf will be the tenth consecutive LBP production of Wilson’s crowning achievement, The American Century Cycle. LBP took up the mantle to become the first theater company to formally stage the entire Cycle in 2010. With their production of Radio Golf they become that company.
Pre Production Notes
In the first installment of The American Century Cycle, Gem of the Ocean, we started out in the house at 1839 Wiley St., the house with the red door, Aunt Ester’s house. It is fitting we should end our journey here at Aunt Ester’s house as the battleground for Radio Golf, the final installment of the Cycle. Souls are still being washed on Wiley St, even though we lost Ester in King Hedley II, the ninth installment. By returning to Ester’s house we are making a circle back to where we started. I find that, and Master Wilson, most elegant.
We are about to do what we said we would do in 2010. It was such a big undertaking until I am not sure that anyone other than us realize how much we bit off. That we would be here, now, is nothing short of miraculous, and that’s the small of it — it has been such a blessing to those of us who stayed the course. This is such a pregnant moment for me as a theater maker. It is bittersweet and filled with a quiet power. Everything is before us as a theater company and so much is behind us as a group of artist dedicated to a single purpose creating together for a sustained period of time. In this moment we can argue that we will save the house on Wiley St. which is slated for demolition as the curtain rises on Radio Golf.
We have reached the end of a mythical quest with Wilson as our cartographer we have traveled through time and consciousness by the completion of his elegant circular ritual we have arrived at our destination. We are home. We have come ashore firmly dressed in a cosmology, in possession of an epistemology, rooted so firmly in our soul that our arrival is only understandable in the context of remembering and going home. We have traveled from who we were, to who we wanted to be, by realizing we are enough.
We may yet save the house on Wiley St. . We know of a certainty we will build it again if it is torn down. It’s a metaphor; we are the foundation of the house on Wiley St., if we can wrap ourselves around that, then, we know they can’t tear down the house, Aunt Ester is alive, the song is strong. We are that song. We are the children of the Diaspora, the fruit of the bones, without sanctuary in search of a resting place carrying the foundation of home within. Thus we may still save the house. It’s all metaphor and the purest of truth.
Metaphor and symbolism are part and parcel of the ritual offered by Wilson. We have learned to speak the language, to carefully read between the lines, and to connect the dots between Wilson’s history of the twentieth century to our lived realities here in the twenty first century. Having learned the game it is my great pleasure to play with the master’s toys in his house at least once more.
We are mining the lessons and the message already. As usual, for us our real life becomes a part of each story. As we enter Pittsburgh’s Hill District in its final throes of being remade at the turn of the Century we are reminded of how much our hometown of Oakland has changed in the mere space of the five years since we began our Century Cycle Project.
We are no longer in the theater built for us. It no longer exist. Most of our theater troupe no longer lives in West Oakland where we started out. Most of us can’t afford to live in the area we dedicated ourselves to revitalizing with culture and self determination. Our neighborhood, once one of the poorest in America, has become one of the most expensive neighborhoods in California. Like the characters we met in Gem of the Ocean and Joe Turner has Come and Gone we are looking for home and opportunity in places we had not imagined as choices. Most of these places are in fact are not choices in the literal sense of the word.
To say the least our lived experiences leave us in a most interesting place as we begin production for the only installment of the Cycle told from the standpoint of potential developers, who happen to be Black. We are on slightly different terrain in this play. Usually our main focus is on common folk with lessons for all of us about complex issues. This time we focus on the hearts and minds of Dubois’s talented 10th. Our hero’s are very comfortable and upwardly mobile folk on a move. They are not suffering from a lack of resource or opportunity. Their poverty is of a different stripe. It allows us to look at a manifestation of trauma not well examined since Caesar Wilkes explains why he hunts Black people for a living in Gem of the Ocean. I have always thought that monologue was one of Wilson’s greatest gifts in the cycle.
In that monologue Caesar tells us how he lost his soul. He speaks in great candor about his journey as a striver and how he took the only road left open to him. Caesar figuratively murders freedom in Gem of the Ocean by killing Solly Two Kings. He violates the sanctuary of 1839 Wiley the home of Aunt Ester to do so. We still have time to unfurl the mystery of Black Mary, Caesar’s sister who we believe at this point joined the myth of Ester Tyler, who of course is symbolically much more than a 300 year old woman. We will return to this thought in later writings. But for now we do know somethings for a certainty, in Radio Golf we come to know that Caesar Wilkes regrets where he found himself, and went to great lengths to make right his wrong. It is his act of contrition that sets the stage for Radio Golf.
Radio Golf offers space for a reexamination of wealth, legacy, and loyalty in the context of a marginalized people in a material culture. It allows us to question what success looks like from multiple vantage points. We are afforded a vehicle to examine our interconnectedness in a way I hope makes audiences quietly uncomfortable in the consideration of the simple truth: right is right and right don’t wrong nobody.
Radio Golf starring The Lower Bottom Playaz, directed by Ayodele Nzinga opens 12/18/15 in Oakland Ca. at The Flight Deck, 1540 Broadway. Ticket info on website: http://www.lowerbottomplayaz.com . Information :510-457-8999.