Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Mamet's 'Race,' A Mad Dash At Kirk Douglas

(l-r) Dominic Hoffman and Chris Bauer in Race

By Darlene Donloe

“There is nothing a white person can say to a black person about race.”

David Mamet has never been afraid of getting his hands dirty or tackling controversial issues.

In his drama, Race, the award-winning playwright/director puts his spin on the provocative and volatile subject of Race.

The title alone warns the audience to hold on to their hats for what is sure to be a wild Mamet dance as he does the racial two-step like only he can.

It’s not a new presentation. In fact, it’s actually an old story literally told in black and white. A white man has a black woman as a lover. Something goes wrong and now he’s being accused of rape.

Charles Strickland (Jonno Roberts), a wealthy white executive wants to hire the law firm helmed by Henry Brown (Dominic Hoffman), a black lawyer and Jack Lawson (Chris Bauer), a white lawyer. He wants them to defend him against the charge of raping a black woman.   There is also a new legal assistant in the office named Susan, who plays a vital role in the case.  There’s more to Susan than what meets the eye. Repeatedly declaring his innocence, Strickland meets his match with Brown and Lawson, who don’t pull any punches when it comes to his chances court.  We meet all the plays in the boardroom of the law office just as Brown and Lawson are deciding whether to take the case.  They explain to Strickland that he may lose the case based on the fact that he is rich and white and the accuser is poor and black. 

Jonno Roberts

As the seedy story begins to unfold, racial epithets and other racial sore spots are exposed. Mamet (Glengarry Glen Ross, Keep Your Pantheon, Faustus) is good at writing reality and raising many painful questions. He also talks about the white man’s guilt and how the African American race still feels shame. The realistic banter and uncomfortable conversations the characters share are what makes this play a gem.  Mamet lets it fly and it doesn’t always have a safe or soft landing.   The words, fucking, nigger and bitch are used liberally. There is even use of the dreaded “c” word (cunt).

It’s always interesting to watch a play about the touchy subject of race relations with a racially mixed audience.

Some members of the audience squirm, others wear their uneasiness on their faces, while others wait to see if it’s safe to laugh by watching the reactions of the other race.

Dominic Hoffman

Chris Bauer

America has yet to heal from its ugly racial wounds. What people say and how they live are still at odds.  Skin color still plays a major role in society – even in the White House.  The reality is nothing much has changed and Mamet isn’t afraid to say so.

Director Scott Zigler has assembled a solid cast.

The acting is engaging and at times even comical. The subject matter is so fiery, Mamet obviously through in some comedic banter to lessen the impact.

Hoffman and Bauer anchor this production with their chemistry and robust performances. Hoffman, whose character has no problem speaking his mind – political correctness be damned, is confident in his presentation. Bauer, who plays a painfully candid Lawson, commands the stage with ease. The relationship between the two veteran actors is smooth and unforced. Roberts is satisfying as a rich, white man totally confused about why he’s in the position he’s in.  DeWanda Wise, who plays Susan, the legal assistant, is a good actress but felt out of place, (which admittedly could have been the point) and a bit disjointed as she seemed to be practicing the art of projecting her voice. 

 DeWanda Wise

Mamet’s dialogue is crisp, to the point, harsh, and effective.  The play is chock full of Mamet-ized, colorful one-liners. Although the harsh words flow easily, it never feels exploitive or frivolous.  The show is in your face from beginning to end. Of course, that means it stays at the same temperature throughout its 90 minutes – never elevating its intensity.

Mamet is known for his quick-witted dialogue, which goes something like this: "It's a complicated world, full of misunderstandings," Lawson observes. "That's why we have lawyers."   Or, "This isn't about sex, it's about race," says Susan.  "What's the difference?,” replies Lawson.  When asked by Susan whether he thinks black people are stupid Lawson says, “I think all people are stupid. I don’t think blacks are exempt.” 

(l-r) Dominic Hoffman and DeWanda Wise in Race

Race was first seen in New York at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on December 6, 2009. It was directed by Mamet. It received its UK premiere at the Hampstead Theatre on May 23, 2013

Race, directed by Mamet, stars Dominic Hoffman, Chris Bauer, Jonno Roberts and DeWanda Wise.

Jeffery P. Eisenmann’s set design works, as does Leah Piehl’s costumes and Josh Epstein’s lighting.  

On the DONLOE SCALE:  D (don’t bother), O (oh, no), N (needs work), L (likeable), O (oh, yeah) and E (excellent), Race gets O (oh, yeah).

Race, Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd., Culver City, 8 p.m. Tues-Fri., 2 and 8 p.m. Sat., 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sun; no performance on Mondays, through Sept. 28; $25-$55; www.CenterTheatreGroup.org.

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