Backstage Pass with Lia Chang

Denise Burse, Rocky Carroll, Anthony Chisholm, John Earl Jelks and James A. Williams in Radio Golf by August Wilson at The Pearlstone Theater in Baltimore

All Photos by Craig Schwartz

All Photos by Craig Schwartz


I’m off to Baltimore to see a very special evening of theater, the late August Wilson’s Radio Golf presented by CENTERSTAGE at The Pearlstone Theater for a limited run through April 30, 2006.

This stirring conclusion to Wilson’s epic 10-play cycle chronicling the African American experience during the 20th Century features a tight ensemble cast including Denise Burse, Rocky Carroll, Anthony Chisholm, John Earl Jelks and James A. Williams under the direction of Kenny Leon, who staged Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean and the revival of A Raisin in the Sun on Broadway. The design team includes David Gallo (sets), Susan Hilferty (costumes) and Donald Holder (lighting).

Ending his ten-play cycle, Wilson sets Radio Golf in Pittsburgh’s Hill District in the 1990s, a time of great change for the District, pitting history and honor against the pull of political power and extraordinary financial success.

The house at 1839 Wylie Avenue, Aunt Ester’s refuge for the weary in Gem of the Ocean, is about to be demolished. Harmond Wilks II, who is spearheading a move to have the area declared “blighted,” and therefore eligible for redevelopment, is on the verge of becoming the city’s first black mayor and owner of a local radio station. With the appearance of Old Joe, a gruffly poetic ne’er-do-well, the historic patina of the Hill District begins to take on a growing importance, throwing Wilks into a quandary of life-changing proportion.

On October 16, 2005, fourteen days after American playwright August Wilson's death, the theatre was renamed in his honor. (l-r) August Wilson's niece Kimberly Ellis with Radio Golf castmembers Denise Burse, John Earl Jelks and Anthony Chisholm in front of the August Wilson Theatre on October 16, 2005.  Photos by Lia Chang

On October 16, 2005, fourteen days after American playwright August Wilson's death, the theatre was renamed in his honor. (l-r) August Wilson's niece Kimberly Ellis with Radio Golf castmembers Denise Burse, John Earl Jelks and Anthony Chisholm in front of the August Wilson Theatre on October 16, 2005. Photos by Lia Chang

Heading the cast as Harmond Wilks, the mayoral hopeful who discovers an unexpected tie to Aunt Ester’s house at 1839 Wylie Avenue, is Rocky Carroll, making his CENTERSTAGE debut. Probably most recognizable for his long-running television roles—as Dr. Keith Wilkes on “Chicago Hope” and as Joey Emerson on the Baltimore-set “Roc”—Mr. Carroll made his Broadway debut in The Piano Lesson, garnering Outer Critics Circle and Theatre World Awards and Tony and Drama Desk nominations for his performance. In addition to his theatrical credits, Mr. Carroll’s film appearances include Crimson Tide, Born on the Fourth of July, and The Great White Hype.

Appearing as Wilks’ wife Mame, a public relations maven spearheading his upcoming campaign, is Denise Burse. Ms. Burse previously appeared as Rose in Fences at CENTERSTAGE, a role she also played for Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre Company. Her many theater appearances include Wendy Wasserstein’s An American Daughter on Broadway, Robert Johnson Tricked the Devil (Audelco Award), Ground People (Audelco nomination, Theatre World Award), and Flyin’ West with Ruby Dee at The Kennedy Center. Burse may be familiar to television audiences from her roles on “Law & Order”, “Law & Order: SVU”, “Law & Order: Criminal Intent”, “Third Watch”, “100 Centre Street”, “Sopranos”, “One Life to Live”, “Cosby”, “Guiding Light” and the BET/STARZ movie “Funny Valentines” with Alfre Woodard and Loretta Devine. She has appeared in the films Angel, Basquiat, The Juror, The Annihilators, the feature film Preaching to the Choir, directed by Charles Randolph Wright, and the highly anticipated “House of Payne,” directed by Tyler Perry.

Playing Roosevelt Hicks, Wilks’ business partner and the host of a local radio program about golf, is James A. Williams. Mr. Williams previously appeared at CENTERSTAGE in Lorraine Hansberry’s Les Blancs. He recently directed a production of The Meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, is a company member of Penumbra Theatre Company and an associate at Pillsbury House Theatre, and has been a member of Guthrie Theater’s acting company for four years. His many theatrical credits include favorite roles in Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train, Boesman and Lena, Two Trains Running, The Masks of Othello, Jitney, Seven Guitars, The Illusion, and The Winter’s Tale. Mr. Williams is an artistic consultant for the St. Paul Public School System.

CENTERSTAGE veteran Anthony Chisholm plays Elder Joseph Barlow, who shows up claiming rights to Aunt Ester’s historic house. Mr. Chisholm previously appeared in CENTERSTAGE’s productions of Les Blancs and Jitney, both directed by Marion McClinton. He appeared in Two Trains Running and Gem of the Ocean on Broadway and in King Lear Off Broadway. Other theater credits include Back in the World (Audelco nomination), Ain’t Supposed to Die a Natural Death (first national tour), Jitney (Off Broadway, 2000 Obie and Drama Desk Awards; London’s National Theatre, 2002 Olivier Award), Two Trains Running, Gem of the Ocean (NAACP and Ovation Awards), Tracers, I Am a Man, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Fences, and Driving Miss Daisy. Mr. Chisholm’s film and television credits include Beloved, “100 Centre Street,” “Law & Order: SVU,” “Vietnam War Stories” (Cable Ace nomination), “Third Watch,” “New York Undercover,” and “Oz.”

Rounding out the cast in his CENTERSTAGE debut as the down-on-his-luck Sterling Johnson—a character who first appeared in Two Trains Running—is John Earl Jelks. Prior to Radio Golf, Mr. Jelks appeared in the Broadway, Boston, Los Angeles, and Chicago engagements of Gem of the Ocean, garnering a 2004 Beverly Hills/Hollywood NAACP Theatre Award for Best Ensemble Equity and 2003 LA Stage Alliance Ovation Award. His other theatrical credits include Pill Hill, Diary of a Black Man, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, and The Piano Lesson. He appeared in Zeinabu Irene Davis’ Sundance-nominated film Compensation. Mr. Williams, Mr. Chisholm, and Mr. Jelks have all appeared in Radio Golf since its world premiere last April at Yale Repertory Theatre.

August Wilson, who died last October at age 60 of liver cancer, was the author of Gem of the Ocean, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, The Piano Lesson, Seven Guitars, Fences, Two Trains Running, Jitney, King Hedley II, and Radio Golf. Mr. Wilson’s works garnered many awards, including Pulitzer Prizes for Fences (1987) and The Piano Lesson (1990); a Tony Award for Fences; Great Britain’s Olivier Award for Jitney; as well as seven New York Drama Critics Circle Awards for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Fences, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, The Piano Lesson, Two Trains Running, Seven Guitars, and Jitney. Additionally, the cast recording of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom received a 1985 Grammy Award, and Mr. Wilson received a 1995 Emmy Award nomination for his screenplay adaptation of The Piano Lesson.

Mr. Wilson received many fellowships and awards, including Rockefeller and Guggenheim Fellowships in Playwrighting, the Whiting Writers Award, and the 2003 Heinz Award; was awarded a 1999 National Humanities Medal by the President of the United States; and received numerous honorary degrees from colleges and universities, as well as the only high school diploma ever issued by the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. He was an alumnus of New Dramatists, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a 1995 inductee into the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and on October 16, 2005, Broadway renamed the theater located at 245 West 52nd Street in his honor.

Mr. Wilson was born and raised in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and lived in Seattle, Washington at the time of his death. He is survived by his two daughters, Sakina Ansari and Azula Carmen Wilson, and his wife, costume designer Constanza Romero.

Seven of his plays have been previously produced at CENTERSTAGE: Joe Turner’s Come and Gone (1988–89), Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (1990–91), Fences (1993–94), Two Trains Running (1994–95), Seven Guitars (1996–97), Jitney (1998–99), and The Piano Lesson (2000–01).

August Wilson’s Radio Golf will be presented at The Pearlstone Theater at CENTERSTAGE from March 24–April 30, 2006. Performance Times are Tuesday through Saturday: 8 pm, Sunday: 7:30 pm, Saturday & Sunday Matinee: 2 pm., Tickets are $10–$65, with Student & Senior Discounts.

See you in the aisle.

Call 410.332.0033 for tickets and information. Or go online: www.centerstage.org.

Center Stage
700 N. Calvert St.
Baltimore, Maryland

Related Articles:
Slideshow – On October 16, 2005, The Virginia Theatre was renamed the August Wilson Theatre
Click here for the Lia Chang Articles Archive.

Lia Chang Photo by Brianne Michelle Photography

Lia Chang Photo by Brianne Michelle Photography

Lia Chang is an actor, performance and fine art botanical photographer, and an award-winning multimedia journalist.

As a photographer and videographer, Lia collaborates with artists, organizations and companies in establishing their documentary photo archive and social media presence. She has been documenting her colleagues and contemporaries in the arts, fashion and journalism since making her stage debut as Liat in the National Tour of South Pacific, with Robert Goulet and Barbara Eden. Lia currently plays Nurse Lia on “One Life to Live”. She has appeared in Wolf, New Jack City, A Kiss Before Dying, King of New York, Big Trouble in Little China, The Last Dragon, Taxman and “New York Undercover”.

Selections of Lia’s archive of Asian Pacific Americans in the arts, fashion, journalism, politics and space are now in the newly created LIA CHANG THEATER PHOTOGRAPHY PORTFOLIO in the ASIAN PACIFIC AMERICAN PERFORMING ARTS COLLECTION housed in the Library of Congress Asian Division’s Asian American Pacific Islander Collection.

Lia’s portraits and performance photos have appeared in Vanity Fair, Gourmet, German Elle, Women’s Wear Daily, The Paris Review, TV Guide, Daily Variety, Interior Design, American Theatre, Broadwayworld.com, Life & Style, OUT, New York Magazine, InStyle, Timeout.com, Villagevoice.com, Playbill.com, Theatermania.com, thelmagazine.com, The Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, USA Today, The Boston Globe, New York Times and Washington Post. A former syndicated arts and entertainment columnist for KYODO News, Lia is the New York Bureau Chief for AsianConnections.com. She writes about culture, style and Asian American issues for a variety of publications and this Backstage Pass with Lia Chang blog.

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