Racism itself is a very controversial word. The meaning of race is a group of people of common ancestry, distinguished from others by physical characteristics, such as hair type, color of eyes, skin and stature, etc. This distinguishing word is the title of the Goodman Theatre’s newest production, “Race.” Throughout the entire production of “Race”, racial and sexist presumptions are made, whether it’s in that playwrights message to the audience or the stereotyping audience members that presume the crude and humorous jokes, the color of the actor’s skin, their age and their sexual gender are the tags that get labeled to the actors.
A white man is accused of raping a young black woman. His lawyers are two middle-aged men. One black, Henry Brown, played by the hysterical Geoffrey Ownes, and one white–loud-mouthed Jack Lawson, played by the brilliant Marc Grapey. They also have a young black female assistant, Susan, played by the lovely Tamberla Perry. The rejected case, based on an alleged crime, transferred to a biracial firm. The facts of the case: The female victim was wearing a red sequined dress the night “it” happened. She claims “he”, Mr. Charles Strickland, tore her dress off and raped her. In the first report given by the maids of the hotel and the police officer handling the scene of the “crime,” there was no reference to sequins being in the hotel room. Which doesn’t make any sense because, as one character says, “If you stare at those things long enough they fall off.” The lawyers then proceed by making the case about the red sequined dress rather then the rape. As they say, they want to put a show on for the jury. This adds a “razzle-dazzle” feel to the play like the ironic musical “Chicago.” The lawyers say that if it came down to re-enacting the alleged rape in the court room, to prove to the jury that this man was innocent, they would! One lawyer even suggested and recommended having the black female assistant put on a similar red sequined dress and reenact the motion of being thrown on a bed. This would prove that sequins would have been everywhere if she was really thrown like the accused victim said so in her report to the police. This would prove that the rape could have never happened.
The lawyers go back and forth wondering if they should take the risky case because of the risky battle that will follow. As the show goes on, the law books surrounding the entire law office are never used. This makes me wonder if the directors vision was to prove that the play wasn’t truly about law, but about something else entirely. Or maybe it starts out about law, but ends up being something else. The stage had a very convincing set. There were also some small flaws in the script that were quite bothersome. They talked about the D.A.(District Attorney) when deciding if they should take the case or not. But the show takes place in Chicago, so there would be a States Attorney, not a D.A. Other glitches like that annoyed me with the script. I found the writing hilarious, but other viewers may not take to the vulgar humor as well as I did.
Is a man guilty of raping a black woman because he’s white? Is a man not guilty of raping a black woman because he’s white? These are a few of the provocative questions that will be engraved in your head after watching this play unfold. The inevitable questions of race that everyone wonders about, but are too uncomfortable to ask, get asked and somewhat answered in this 95 minute production of “Race”.