Text of Radio Review of RACE

by Lynn on April 13, 2013

in The Passionate Playgoer

The following review was broadcast on Friday morning, April 12, 2013 CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, 89.5 FM RACE at the Bluma Appel Theatre until May 5.

The host was Phil Taylor

1) Good Friday Morning. Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer is here with our theatre fix. Hi Lynn, what are you going to talk about today?

Hi Phil. I’m going to talk about only one play today. It’s called Race by David Mamet which opened last night a the Bluma Appel Theatre, part of the Canadian Stage season.

It has all the David Mamet hallmarks guaranteed to rile, rouse and perhaps incite the audience to heated debate, or not.

2) Fighting words. What’s the story?

A rich white man named Charles Strickland is accused of raping a young black women. He denies it. He says he loves the woman and she loves him. He’s also married to someone else. The woman-who we never see- says he ripped off her new red sequined dress. He threw her down upon the bed and raped her.

Strickland needs a lawyer. He has come to this particular law firm in the hopes they will take the case and get him off. The firm boasts two ruthless, smart male lawyers, one is Jack Lawson who is white and the other is Henry Brown who is black. There is also a young black woman lawyer in this firm, who gets in the middle of the back and forth of the other two lawyers about whether to take the case or not.

Her name is Susan and seemingly doesn’t warrant a last name. The least of the questions between Jack and Henry is whether Strickland is guilty or not and they rest the whole case on how he will be found guilty because he’s white. In other words to them it will rest on Race.

I looked up the word. “Race…a group of persons connected by common decent; distinct ethnical stock.” They are more interested in the consequences of what happens if they lose or win.

3) You say the play has all the hallmarks of a David Mamet play guaranteed to rile, rouse and incite the audience to heated debate. How does he do that?

He conjures up all the hot button topics. A rich white man is accused of raping a black woman, do the whole question of colour, race and money come into it. The details and facts are very sketchy.

We do not really know the relationship between Strickland and his girlfriend? Was she a prostitute? Mamet doesn’t say—he leaves it to us to imagine, but he sure leans in heavily so we get an idea of that connection.

Did Strickland rip the dress off? There’s very little questioning of the client. There’s comment as to whether or not he is a client. But it’s the whole notion of race that is shoved down our throats.

We are told by Jack that all white people fear black people and feel guilty about it. We are told that all black people loath white people and feel shame about it.

In Mamet’s play there can be no relation between a white and black person that does not rest totally on the skin colour and the contempt the other must feel. At no time is there consideration that goes past that blinkered idea. And that’s what the lawyers are going to play on.

Susan is the wild card. She turns out to be the most ruthless and manipulative of the lot.

Mamet is a master of manipulation to make it appear that his plays are about deeper subjects than they are:

Glengarry Glen Ross is about the survival of the most vicious in a shady real estate office.

OLEANNA is about sexual harassment in the education system so loaded and lopsided as to make us loath one of the characters and sympathize with the other who is preposterously written.

And now RACE, supposedly about the slimy ways these shark lawyers decide to take a case or not.

It says in the press release “Mamet lays bare a corrupt legal system and a simmering sexual and racial rage that permeates North American Culture.”

4) Do you believe that?

Not for a second. That corrupt system and racial rage might permeate Mamet’s idea of American culture but I would argue it’s much different in Canada. We aren’t the States.

Mamet reveals so many turns in the proceedings so quickly and coincidental as to render them unbelievable. Where no police report mentions sequins on the floor, sequins now appear to be found. An incriminating postcard written years before by the supposed client, mysteriously appears now.

And because I’ve been watching Mamet’s plays for so long, I see how he uses the same tricks. It all gets a bit tired. He’s used the same language construction to make it seem as if characters are articulate or not. It just makes them sound stilted.

And for all the character, information, manipulation there’s little drama in it. There is no mystery; there’s a lot of supposing but no mystery. There is not one character we can identify with or root for. Perhaps that’s not the case in a Mamet play.

5) And the production. Much has been made of the fact that Jason Priestley is playing Jack Lawson. How does the production do?

Yes Jason Priestley whose claim to fame was Beverley Hills 90210—13 years ago. He hasn’t been on a stage in 10 years and that should raise eyebrows. He played in the West End in a play for two months. That seems to be it for his stage acting experience.

He is ok; I just don’t believe him as ruthless. As Henry, Nigel Shawn Williams is feisty and oozing confidence. He is on the lookout for a fight.

As Susan, Cara Ricketts is all poise and won’t be bullied.

And as Strickland, Matthew Edison is not done any favours by his costume which hardly shows him off as a wealthy, spiffy man. Edison brings out the confusion and conviction of Strickland.

It is directed by Daniel Brooks who also has his set of tricks—abrupt light changes; a neatness to the look; a moderness. But I don’t know why so often the cast declaimed to the audience and didn’t look at each other. Is there no connection to each other? Even adversarial?

There is some stage business I thought odd—Susan slamming her feet up on the desk to make a point—I don’t think so. It is as stylish production.

It’s just that I think the play is a crock. Manipulative, conjuring a premise that doesn’t work; and I don’t think it challenges our perceptions in any way.

Thanks Lynn. That’s Lynn Slotkin our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. You can read Lynn blog at www.slotkinletter.com

RACE plays at the Bluma Appel Theatre until May 5

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