BWW Reviews: Canadian Stage's RACE

I had the pleasure of attending the Opening Night performance of Canadian Stage's production of David Mamet's RACE on Thursday, April 11th 2013, starring Jason Priestley and directed by Daniel Brooks. Canadian Stage's RACE marks the return of Jason Priestley to the stage after a 13-year break.

David Mamet's play RACE is about a wealthy white man, Charles Strickland, who is accused of raping a young black woman. He decides to bring his case to a law firm which is headed by two smart but ruthless attorneys - one white, and one black. The case not only delves into the crime of rape, but also to the notions of race and racism. And to top it all off, the law firm's young black associate Susan only adds to the already complicated matter at hand.

Jason Priestley plays the shrewd lawyer Jack Lawson, and Nigel Shawn Williams plays the whip-smart lawyer Henry Brown. At first, both lawyers have a tough time deciding on whether or not they want to take on Charles Strickland's case because they think that it's a no-brainer lost case, but particular circumstances make them take on the case.

Jason Priestley delivers a fantastic performance as Jack Lawson - it's as if he never left the stage at all. The complexities of the character shines through as many of Jack's secrets are revealed: the reason why he thinks Charles' is innocent and his "relationship" with Susan as employer and employee. Nigel Shawn Williams' portrayal of Henry Brown is just as praiseworthy as Priestley's Jack Lawson. Williams' timing is impeccable as he delivers some of the most brilliant lines that Mamet is so well-known for writing. Priestley and Williams' rapport on stage is also a delight to witness. Cara Ricketts' does a superb job playing the smart, strong, cunning and sexy Susan; and Matthew Edison also gives a really strong performance as the "victimized" Charles Strickland, with his bursts of rage as he's constantly asked if he did in fact rape the young black woman.

I must also point out that I thought the set design by Debra Hanson was terrific - I especially liked the use of filing cabinets which were lined up all the way to the ceiling acting as a wall on the left and right sides of the stage. The way the show begins catches the audience off-guard as it just goes to black and the lights come back on revealing the immediate start of the first scene. In addition, the lighting is effectively used to indicate the smooth scene changes. Two key things to note about David Mamet's play RACE which were included in the rights clause are: "Unless the text of the play states otherwise no music, recording, artificial sound, or amplification shall be utilized at any time the audience is present in the theatre"; and "no trick sets (ex. Sets that move, fall apart or shift) shall be utilized" - I think these two clauses really add to the intense and compelling effect the play has.

Daniel Brooks does an incredible job directing this David Mamet play. Like all of Mamet's plays, it poses a great challenge to the director and the actors - particularly the way the dialogue is written - and RACE is no exception. RACE is as smart as it is provocative, with Mamet's brilliant wit and his well-known use of shocking dialogue to touch on social, racial and gender politics.

Another special note just for David Mamet's RACE is that no talk-backs are permitted until two hours after the end of each performance of the play, which I think is really interesting since after seeing RACE, so many questions come to mind about the topic of race and the play itself, that there needs to be a discussion. If you're a fan of David Mamet's works, I highly recommend seeing Canadian Stage's production of RACE with its incredible cast and brilliant direction by Daniel Brooks. Even if you're not familiar with Mamet's plays, RACE is still a great thought-provoking play which is sure to make for a great night of theatre.

RACE is on stage at the Bluma Appel Theatre (27 Front St. E) now until May 5, 2013. Performances run Tuesday through Saturday at 8:00pm with matinees on Wednesdays at 1:30pm, Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00pm. The performance runs 100 minutes with no intermission. Tickets range from $24 to $99 and can be purchased in person at the box office, by phone at 416 368 3110, or online at

Photo Credit: David Hou

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