Sunday, September 11, 2011

Theatre review: "Race" from Pittsburgh Irish and Classical Theatre.Sunday 11th September 2011

David Mamet’s exercise in black and white, called Race, surges with all kinds of color and intensity as produced by Pittsburgh Irish and Classical Theatre. Given that it’s only been around for two years it seems a little early to call it a classic. But, in Mamet’s comments about it, reprinted in the excellent program book, he does call attention to the essence of classic tragedies as if some kind of inspiration.

This cast, superbly paced by director Andrew Paul, dynamically makes clear the broad, shimmering palette of Mamet’s provocative ideas.

I call it an exercise in black and white not just because, obviously, it deals with race, but with the questionable absolutes of truth and justice and, in this case, one major part of the American way. Mamet’s recurring theme concerns guilt and shame. I won’t go into what he means or why; that and much more of what he has to say become the fascinating reason for being there.

This revolves around a wealthy white man, Charles Stickland, who is accused of raping a black woman. Strickland comes to Jack Lawson and Henry Brown’s law firm hoping to have them defend him. As the play spirals and twists back and forth, Lawson, who is white and Brown, who is black, at first debate whether or not they should take the case. They also have the assistance and input of recently hired Susan. She’s black. As the play progresses her relationship with Lawson also emerges.

Fundamentally this 90 minute version of Mamet’s Race, evidently tightened compared to the two acts on Broadway, vibrates with conceptions and pre-conceptions rather than with definitions of characters. Strickland, the accused rapist, is the only person clearly defined beyond the confines of the sweaty but spartan office walls. Michael Fuller’s convincing performance makes him look vulnerable and innocent, but lacks the shadings which would seem to go with such a man of privilege and affluence. Meanwhile as the lawyers, John DeMita’s Lawson seethes with the appropriate fervor of a man with a passion for verbal combat while Alan Bomar Jones’ take on Henry Brown comes across with sturdy humor and winning personality. Caisha Felt plays Susan totally right, as a woman with attitude.

You may find some analogy here with the more recent Dominic Strauss- Kahn case, especially since part of the developments concern questionable testimony by an immigrant chamber maid. But the play was written before that case surfaced.

This reminder, should you need it, as usual, Mamet’s language is peppered with expletives. But they and all the other words serve a more intense purpose: to get us to ponder those thorny aspects of our society which still color our perceptions and our behavior concerning race.

Race continues through October 1st in the Henry Heymann Theatre in Oakland’s Stephen Foster Memorial. Tickets and info at ProArtsTickets at 412/394 -3353 or

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