August Wilson’s Century Cycle > Spoiler-free scene breakdown
- Premiered: 2005; Broadway 2007
- Setting: 1997; office of Bedford Hills Redevelopment Co.
Small cast — just 5 actors.
I.i (Office of Bedford Hills Redeveloment, Inc.)
Mame is unimpressed with the tin ceiling Harmond is excited about, saying it won’t do for a campaign office. He wants to put his campaign office in the Hill District, where he’s from, but the professional and ambitious Mame wants him to think bigger. Harmond’s business partner Roosevelt enters with artist rendering of redeveloped block; he’s worried about his car parked nearby, is worried about the locals stealing his hubcaps. (His elitist disdain for the locals is played for laughs.) It’s definitely gentrification, but it has a health center that Harmond wants to name after Sarah Degree (nurse mentioned in which play?); Mame says that bit of local history is irrelevant (as R unveils a picture of Tiger Woods). R asks for an office next to Harmond. R is well off and successful, running a golfing camp for kids; but clearly a sidekick and doesn’t have the financial resources to be as patient as Harmond, H hopes that the fed will declare the area he’s redeveloping an urban blight, which will make funds available to support his ambitious project. Roosevelt mentions regretting never meeting Raymond (we don’t know who that is at this point in the story); R connects golf strongly with opportunity and manhood; Mame calls to report a problem — someone is painting a house slated to be demolished for the development; H hangs a poster of MLK; Sterling enters, looking for work; recognizes H as old schoolmate, knew R’s athletic (football) brother Raymond (who died in Vietnam while Roosevelt was in school). Sterling says he was in jail for robbing a bank; says the Hill District is dead; Roosevelt returns with report on eccentric old man painting an abandoned, condemned house.
Old Joe drops by the office, saying his dog died and the funeral cost $300. (8 years ago.) Old Joe asks for a lawyer, relates Harmond’s family history. Doubts a black man will be mayor. Is charged with fraud for pretending to be blind. Says America “is a giant slot machine.” Harmond discusses fixing the broken slot machine. Old Joe asks for lights in Kennard Field because kids are going blind playing football there. Harmond suggests golf. Old Joe tells comical story about “Archie” who carried a golf club as a threat, but would stabbed 5x while drawing back to swing club. Roosevelt reveals this character is the one “defacing” the condemned building on Wylie. OJ (“Elder Joseph Barlow”) says he’s fixing it up for his daughter — the house belonged to his mother. With a phone call to the police, Harmond gets the charges on Old Joe dismissed. (He mentions the address — 1839 Wyile.) Old Joe thanks Harmond, but also critical says “I used to know your daddy” and has nothing nice to say about him. (His father is Cesar Wilks, and Joe is apparently the child of Citizen Barlow (and Black Mary?) , from Gem of the Ocean.) Roosevelt opens the door and tells Old Joe to leave. Harmond and Roosevelt discuss their business deals and careers — both men are influential and rising, but Roosevent interrupts himself singing “Blue Skies” because he sees someone breaking into his car.
Harmond pushes back a bit as Mame manages his political career; H speaks about an incident of police violence, Mame asks him to pick his battles. Old Joe comes in, reports Harmond’s car has been vandalized; Old Joe tells a story about a visit from “God” who could put his hand in a pot of boiling water; Mame says it was a trickster with dry ice. (Old Joe is stunned.) H says his clubs were stolen. Old Joe says being ruled by one woman is rough because she expects everything; but if you have six or seven women each is happy with what they can get; H tells the story of meeting Mame in the rain; Old Joe hints that Harmond doesn’t own the house; OJ’s mother said she never owed any taxes; Roosevelt enters in golf clothes, after a good game, making good business contacts. Bernie Smith wants to parner with R to buy WBTZ radio. (Bernie needs Roosevelt to qualify for FCC Minority Tax Certificate.) Harmond disapproves, but R plans to do this with other stations, too. R invites H to celebrate with another round of golf, but H’s clubs were solen.
H, on the phone with his assistant, spots trouble with the Wylie house, ask her to keep quiet about it. Mame tells Harmond the governor tapped her for a new job. They are out of synch — they mildly disagree over details of his campaign. Sterling arrives, suggests a new campaign slogan. He has said he is a “union man” but is not actually a member of any union. Discusses his frustration with schooling, necessitating his strategy of seeking alternatives. Old Joe mentions Miss Harriet’s fried chicken and other details of local history; Sterling recognizes the troubled house as belonging to Aunt Ester; Old Joe monologues on the American flag during wartime; Harmond mentions the flag from his brother’s funeral; Old Joe reveals who had been paying Aunt Ester’s taxes.
Roosevelt, happy with his success with Bernie, suggests bringing him on the Bedford project if the federal “blight” funds don’t come through. Harmond reveals to R more troubling details about the house, but they are distracted when a call comes that the blight declaration was made; they sing joyfully. Sterling “bewildered” by the singing. He’s annoyed because someone put an “X” over his paint job. When Harmond insists he’s going to tear down the house, Sterling challenges his phrasing. A confrontation happens.
Harmond listens to Roosevelt on radio, talking about golf. Sterling is organizing a community event to save the house; also recovered H’s stolen clubs (sells them back for $20). Sterling offers some practical advice about getting votes by adjusting HOV lanes; offers salt-of-the-earth common man advice (reminding Harmond he needs to serve his black constituents). Old Joe tells more stories. Harmond tries to buy him off with a check for $10,000, but Joe prefers the house. Sterling notes that Harmond has just bought stolen property — a crime. Notes that the redevelopment project also stole Old Joe’s house. Sterling suggests H “study up on right and wrong.”
Roosevelt, amidst WBTZ swag, practices his golf swing. He tells H he quit his bank job. H reports he visited the inside of the Wylie house; was moved by his visit. Harmond has a new drawing, which preserves the old house. Roosevelt is livid — H can’t change the plans at this late date. Old Joe offers $100 for taxes; then H says he’s not going to tear down the house; then Old Joe takes the money back. (Surely got a laugh.) Harmond mentions what his father said about the value of family. They have a strong moment recognition about the Wilks family. (my words; Wilson makes a point to tell us in the stage directions in his own way).
Roosevent and Mame hold an intervention, as H is losing focus in the business deal and his political career. Roosevelt has looked into Old Joe’s background and is suspicious; mentiones a suspicious claim that visited the “City of Bones.” Roosevelt, rejecting the heritage that is now moving Harmond, wants to go ahead with the demolition. Harmond is willing to up the ante. (And I’m leaving out details because I don’t wan’t to spoil the story.)
Phone is ringing off hook with falllout, H is pulling phone cords out of wall when Mame walks in. Mame frustrated that H didn’t follow her political plan; H says he has followed his father’s plan all his life. M thinks H is entitled, but she still loves him; a tender moment. H is on phone for an update about the demolition; he takes down his campaign poster; Sterling arrives with update on the “paint party”, gives salt-of-the-earth advice to a man who’s not used to hard knocks; Roosevelt enters, disapproving, but Sterling is in charge of this scene, marking himself with paint; Roosevelt has the law on his side, but Harmond still thinks he’s right to save the house; in the climactic scene H and R have it out, with convo on race and class; a parting; an interaction with a significant prop; an offstage voice.
End of Wilson’s Century Cycle.