by Kory Loucks
HARTFORD — In just another bizarre example of life imitating art — the fascinating but flawed play “Race” by award-winning playwright David Mamet at TheaterWorks examines the polarizing topics of racism and sexism through our legal system, the media, and the seamier side of human nature.In this drama originally produced on Broadway in 2009, Charles, a Manhattan billionaire is accused of raping a black woman in a hotel room and shows up at a law firm looking for representation and where three lawyers grill the wealthy man about the incident.Sound eerily familiar? Perhaps the recent incident implicating Dominique Straus-Kahn, former managing director of the International Monetary Fund and potential President of France, with attempted rape of a maid in a New York City hotel might spring to mind.In this play, Charles was represented by another high-powered attorney, but has either jumped ship, or been dumped, and is seeking other representation.And why does he show up announced at the relatively obscure law firm? Because they have black lawyers, one of who is a woman? Quite possibly, but those and other motives and machinations are not revealed in this 90-minute play without a struggle.It’s been said that racism and sexism are the same and in this play we have glaring examples of both.As usual with any Mamet play, the language is fast, smart, and profane. Director Tazewell Thompson sees to the pace, which zings by at the speed of sound. There’s plenty of profanity and racial epithets, although none of it is gratuitous, including the two super-baddies-the “N” and “C” words.The oral slight-of-hand can’t completely hide the plot problems, however, which are awkwardly used to thrust the story into its various dramatic contortions. All of the revelations take place in real time in one afternoon.The details of the incident arrive out of the blue. The Ivy League graduate female lawyer, Susan, makes an egregious error by contacting the district attorney’s office to get the information about the incident, making the law firm the attorneys of record before they even decide to take the case.She then claims ignorance of causing a problem. I’m no lawyer, but isn’t that basic lawyer stuff?I wouldn’t even mind if she did it intentionally, but then she lies about her ignorance? And at least one of the lawyers believes her. That might forward the plot, but it makes her look like either a first class dummy or a blatant traitor. Why in the world would she so obviously bite the hand that feeds her?Then again out of nowhere a post card arrives by special delivery with damning information from Charles’ old college friend. How did that postcard arrive so fast to their office? Not a facsimile, but the actual postcard?The black male lawyer, Henry, theorizes that Susan saw a list of transgressions that Charles committed in his life, including his less than stellar behavior as a younger man.On that list she saw the name of the college buddy on the list, contacted him, and convinced him to send the damning postcard in 15 minutes? Stretches credulity beyond the breaking point.Henry sends Susan to his car to get his briefcase — an awkward and contrived plot machination invented so he can speak to Jack alone.Mamet’s strength is his characters and here the actors all excel.R. Ward Duffy leads the strong and competent cast as lawyer Jack, the pugilistic, driven, and complex head of the firm.Jack knows he’s part of the male white privilege problem, but finds that knowledge isn’t always enough. Duffy is convincing as the fast-talking, smart, and experienced lawyer who comes alive imagining the drama of a courtroom confrontation.Avery Glymph plays his partner, the younger black lawyer, Henry. He starts out being the most confrontational and then becomes most compassionate in a transition that feels effortless and natural.Jack Koenig is believable as the morally questionable Charles who comes across as surprisingly naïve for a man who has been near the media spotlight for years.He wants to bring his side of the story to the press. What is he, nuts? His lack of sophistication is not so believable, but Keonig plays it convincingly. Jack explains it away as Charles spinning out of control because of the rape accusations, which almost works.Taneisha Duggan has the trickiest role of the four as Susan, who bristles with righteous indignation when asked to play the role of the alleged black rape victim in court but then subserviently retrieves Henry’s briefcase.I love the way they argue with each other, answering questions and accusations with more questions, bringing to mind another truism — Lawyers never ask a question without already knowing the answer.“Race” is a fireworks of explosive language swirling around a timely topic at TheaterWorks, playing through July 10.
(4 stars, excellent; 3 stars, good, 2 stars, fair, 1 star, poor)
Location: 233 Pearl St. Hartford.
Production: Written by David Mamet. Directed by Tazewell Thompson. Sets by Donald Eastman. Costumes by Harry Nadal. Lighting by Robert W. Henderson Jr. Sound by Fabian Obispo.
Running time: 90 minutes with one intermission.
Show Times: Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. Matinees on Saturdays and Sundays - 2:30 p.m. The show will run through July 10.
Tickets: Unassigned seating is $39; $49 on Friday and Saturday nights. Center reserved seats $12 extra. $12 student rush tickets at showtime with valid ID (subject to availability). For tickets call 860-527-7838 or visit their Web site at www.theaterworkshartford.org.
R. Ward Duffy … Jack
Avery Glymph … Henry
Taneisha Duggan … Susan
Jack Koenig … Charles
PHOTO: From left, Taneisha Duggan, Jack Koenig, R. Ward Duffy, and Avery Glymph as Susan, Charles, Jack, and Henry in David Mamet's "Race" at TheaterWorks in Hartford.
photo credit: Lanny Nagler