Saturday, October 22, 2011

RACE, a must see at Beck

David Mamet, the Pulitzer Prize winning author, is noted for his ability to create vivid images with his use of language. His writing style is so distinct that it has been officially dubbed “Mamet Speak.” That fast paced, direct, in-your-face flow of words, which often forces the actors to overlap ideas, cut each other off, and use terms that grate on moralist’s ears, is clearly displayed in his script, RACE, which is getting its regional premiere at Beck Center.

RACE, which ran on Broadway from 2009 to 2010 and featured James Spader, David Alan Grier, Kerry Washington, and Richard Thomas, is a thought provoking, often incendiary piece which follows three attorneys, two black and one white, who grapple with defending a wealthy white man accused of raping a black woman. As the story unfolds, the characters and the audience are faced with examining their definitions, thoughts and feelings about race.

Mamet has said that the play is not only about race but “the lies we tell each other, and ourselves, about the subject.”

Because of the complex language and character development, a production of the script requires not only a focused director, but a superb cast that works as a well oiled unit. Fortunately, Beck has the creative and exacting Sarah May as the show’s director. The award winning May not only understands the requirements of how to make Mamet live, and the necessity of finite timing, but how to work with actors to get the desired outcome.

The production is also blessed with a fine cast. Justin Emeka, an equity member and professor of theater at Oberlin College, is compelling as Henry Brown, one of the black attorneys. He immerses himself in the role, giving human reality to the part.

Tom Woodward, another equity actor, is at his finest as Jack Lawson, the white lawyer. The character’s personal struggle between being racially tolerant, and being unclear of his underlying motivations, is well developed.

Aungelique Scott balances the duality of the role of Susan, a young newly hired member of the law firm, who has both racial and personal agendas, which temper her participation in the legal process. Scott has the ability to distance herself, early on displaying a lack of outward emotion in her eyes and body, that gives clues of what will come in the startling ending of the play. Her emotional transition in the final scene is finely honed.

Brian Pedaci does an acceptable job of portraying Charles Strickland, the wealthy white man accused of raping a black woman. Additional arrogance might have helped build a more conflicted real person. This could have helped heighten the concluding scene.

Richard Gould’s upscale law office set is well conceived, with small details and props creating the required realism. Jenniver Sparano’s costume designs are questionable. Strickland’s suits and ties were definitely not the Brooks Brothers quality that would be worn by a wealth man and Susan’s clothes seemed questionable for an ivy league lawyer to be wearing.

As is Mamet’s hallmark, the play’s conclusion, a twist of what might be expected, encourages the audience to leave the theatre to discuss and dissect what they’ve just experienced.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: David Mamet’s RACE, under the fine directing hand of Sarah May, gets an outstanding production at Beck! It’s one of this season’s MUST SEE highlights.