‘Race’: More than just black and white – By Theresa Pham

May 21, 2012 in Cindy Bandle Young Critics by Cindy-Bandle-Young-Critics

written by David Mamet
directed by Chuck Smith
at Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn, Chicago, IL 60601
Showtimes: 2 p.m. Sundays; 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays; 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through Feb. 19
Running time: 90 minutes with one intermission
Tickets: $25-$89
Contact: 312-443-3800 or goodmantheatre.org

Though racial discrimination may not be as openly prevalent in today’s society as before, many racial stereotypes still exist. “Race” is a play that focuses on the legal aspect of a rape case involving a wealthy married white man and a younger African-American woman who works as a maid. Despite the controversial nature of the play, playwright David Mamet does an excellent job of creating aspects of comic relief to aid the story.

Mamet begins the play with a strong and confrontational wave of black stereotypes from Henry, played extremely convincingly by Geoffery Owens, that puts the audience on the edge of their seats. Then comes the second wave, in which Henry openly addresses the ignored issue of racial segregation by asking: “Do you know what you can say? To a black man. On the subject of race?” With such a definitive opening, Mamet grabs audience members’ attention and makes sure that they are awake and paying attention.

Mamet also plays off of the judgmental nature of being human and all the stereotypes that are extremely common in life. Some of the jokes might be extremely offensive to some audiences members, but those who sat near me understood the writer’s intention and were able to laugh at the jokes. For example, when the client, Charles Strickland (Patrick Clear) objects that he’s innocent, Henry, who’s African-American, reminds him: “You’re white.”
Charles replies, “Is that a crime?” Henry chuckles and states, “In this instance.”

The set is absolutely extravagant and well thought through, yet so simple: Walls covered in old books, a long oval table in the middle of the room surrounded by oversized black leather chairs. The set looks like a typical law firm out of a magazine, but still realistic.

The play is divided up into two portions. The first part is about an hour in length and the second is about 20 minutes long. “Race” is one of the quickest plays, even though the plot occurs over a span of less than a week and addresses both sexism and racism in today’s society. This is the perfect though overly dramatic representation of the law profession.

The lawyers played by Marc Grapey, Geoffrey Ownes and Tamberla Perry discuss the perceptions and racial issues of the case fearlessly and with ease. Their profanity-ridden discussions and side comments throughout the play on race, gender and social roles are not always politically correct and will make some audience members extremely uncomfortable.

Grapey’s performance as Jack Lawson is the most engaging and entertaining of all four actors. Although his character’s use of profanity and blunt sense of humor may not appeal to everyone, his views are accurate and realistic.

As a female in a male-dominated profession, Tamberla Perry’s character, Susan, is the most dimensional yet also the most frustrating and least relatable. At the beginning of the play, Susan is the pretty new innocent African-American assistant but as the play continues Susan begins to challenge Lawson and question his every decision. She get extremely audacious and dwells on minor details that are irrelevant to the racial theme of the play but instead focuses on sexism.

In addition to his racial ties, Mamet incorporates sexist stereotypes. Mamet, who has a history of creating malicious female characters, does the exact same with Susan, whose character seems to grow as the play continues. She begins to embody the “ambitious successful working woman” persona, yet whenever convenient she uses the double standard that women are supposed to be innocent as an excuse. When the other two lawyers want her to wear a red sequined dress for a reenactment of the rape in court, she balks, claiming it is unfair and sexist instead of doing anything to win the case. Mamet then builds upon Susan’s character even more when she neither denies nor confirms the accusations that she is the leak in the office.

“Race” is a smart, well-crafted, funny, provocative, slightly cynical,  fast-paced profanity ridden must-see play. “Race” leaves the audience with a lot to think about and wanting so much more. Though it is extremely hard to admit and accept the controversial nature of both racism and sexism that Mamet addresses, his assessments of society are not far off from the truth.