BWW Reviews: Riveting RACE Raises Important Questions at Ocean State Theatre Company
After Barak Obama was elected President in 2008, there were those who announced the beginning of "post-racial America." Some argued that race relations were changed forever, and changed for the better. That racial injustices and tensions were on the way out, slowly but surely. On the other hand, many have argued that this "post-racial" America is a myth and a figment of our imagination. There are many who argue that racial tensions and injustices are just as bad as ever, if not worse. Some say that nothing has improved and, in fact, being of color in this country is just as dangerous as ever.
Modern-day questions of race are examined with unflinching honesty in David Mamet's play Race, now playing at Ocean State Theatre Company. Mamet, one of the most prolific writers working today, has written numerous plays, screenplays and television shows. He is known for, among other things, his fast-paced, rapid-fire dialogue and his talent for stripping away the layers of politeness and political correctness to get down to the dirty, brutal truth beneath the surface. Race doesn't just get under the skin of our society's racial issues, it gets into the very marrow of the bone.
Mamet's play does this by focusing on a trio of lawyers who are considering taking on a racially charged case involving a white man who allegedly raped a black woman. One of the lawyers, a man, is white, while the other two, a man and a woman, are black. As complications arise, between lawyers and client as well as among the lawyers themselves, racial tensions bubble to the surface and permeate every decision, argument, accusation and confession.
Director Amiee Turner, OSTC's Producing Artistic Director, keeps things moving at a breakneck pace. It's not so much a race as it is a roller coaster ride. She gets the tension going immediately and doesn't let it drop until the final bows are taken. Having said that, she also knows when to slow things down just enough to allow a breath or an extra moment for the dropped bomb to really register. The audience's attention is held throughout while questions are raised in their minds that will no doubt linger for some time.
Turner has at her disposal a fantastic cast who all give charismatic and highly-charged performances. Christopher Swan plays Jack Lawson, the white lawyer. Swan is a commanding stage presence who strikes an intimidating pose. His Lawson is a lawyer who can at one moment be stereotypically sleazy and smarmy, but in the next moment be deeply human and highly emotional. As his partner, Damron Russel Armstrong returns to the OSTC stage after his brilliant performance as Tom Collins in RENT. Here, Armstrong really gets to flex his acting muscle as a black lawyer who knows the true nature of what his race means in the world we inhabit. His comic timing is perfect, as are his moments of believable anger and even rage.
Rounding out the trio of lawyers is Nakeisha Daniel as Susan. While Mamet's plays are often populated by slick, powerful, fast-talking men, they also feature very strong women and the character of Susan is no different. Daniel is up to the task of powerfully filling this role of a woman who must hold her own in a world of men, black and white, as she deals with how to survive when you are both black and female. Finally, Sean McGuirk plays the accused man, Charles Strickland. McGuirk doesn't get as much stage time but he makes the most of it, giving a performance equal to his cast-mates in energy and emotion.
While none of the characters are deeply developed or fleshed out, that's really not the point here. Mamet isn't trying to give us highly developed individuals. He's offering people who are archetypes, they are the representation or symbol of something, whether a rich white man or a black woman. The focus, then, is on the very human and very universal struggles which those type of people must face and deal with every single day.
Whether we think this country is post-racial or not, racially-charged struggles continue and they must be examined and understood so that they may potentially be stopped. That's why this play is so urgent. It's a play that demands to be seen and should be seen by as many people as possible, so audiences will think about what is still happening in this country every day, in many places, to people of many races. For bringing this important play to an area stage and providing the public a chance to think about and discuss these issues, Ocean State Theater Company should be applauded. As should everyone involved in this top-notch production.