note: entire contents copyright 2012 by Sheila Barth
Watching New Repertory Theatre’s Boston premiere of “Race,” David Mamet’s hit Broadway, one-act comedy, is like being stuck between floors in an elevator. It only goes up so far, down so far, and leaves you in the middle, waiting for tidy solutions.
In a 2009 New York Times article, Mamet said he wanted to write about race, and called “Race” a play about lies. “Race, like sex, is a subject on which it is near impossible to tell the truth,” he wrote. He added the play’s theme is race and the lies we tell each other on the subject.
Robert Walsh’s slick direction intensifies the rapid-fire, fascinating, back-and-forth dialogue between likable black lawyer, Henry Brown, (whom Cliff Odle portrays with a playful, yet professional demeanor); his white partner, Jack Lawson, deftly portrayed by Ken Cheeseman; and their young, attractive, intelligent, African-American recent hire, Susan, whom Miranda Craigwell portrays with sardonic edginess.
The three lawyers become involved in a racially-brewed rape case, in which wealthy, married white businessman, Charles Strickland (Patrick Shea) admits to having an affair with his black mistress. He says he’s guilty of giving her presents at times, but he adamantly insists he didn’t rape her. “I’m the victim of a false accusation,” he rants.
The play’s tempo ebbs and flows like high tide. Strickland’s guilty. He needs a strategy. He isn’t guilty, but feels guilt. The girl was his mistress. Why would he rape her? What does she really want? Who knows?
It seems Mamet doesn’t care. He’s having more fun presenting arguments and verbal jousting than solutions, and so’s this talented cast.
The lawyers really don’t care whether he’s innocent, and tell Strickland nobody else does, either. “By dating a black woman, you challenged convention,” Lawson says.
The lawyers intend to represent their client, regardless of his guilt or innocence. Brown says the entire case rests upon which lawyer makes the best presentation. Whatever facts they lack, they’ll make up, adds Lawson.
As Lawson builds up strategy for Strickland’s defense, Brown gleans facts that look suspicious, but don’t imply Strickland’s guilt. In fact, Lawson is convinced he’s innocent, but can’t figure out why the mistress accused him of rape.
There’s something fishy about this case. It has as many holes as Swiss cheese. And while both lawyers continue researching and fact-gathering, Susan insists Strickland’s guilty. Her attitude is tinged with her own racial hang-ups and Lawson’s reason for hiring her. She becomes increasingly sinister, sneakily plotting behind their backs, edging to a surprise ending.
Creative scenic designer Janie E. Howland’s professional-looking law office, and Scott Pinckney’s lighting enhance scenes, from comedic interplay to tense confrontations.
BOX INFO: One-act, 80-minute comedy by David Mamet, appearing through Nov. 4, in the Charles Mosesian Theater, Arsenal Center for the Arts, 321 Arsenal St., Watertown. Tickets: $28-$58; student, senior, group discounts. Showtimes: Oct. 28, Nov. 4, at 2 p.m.; Oct. 24,25,Nov. 1, at 7:30 p.m.; Oct. 26,27,Nov. 2,3, at 8 p.m.;Oct. 27, Nov. 3, at 3 p.m. Call 617-923-8487 or visit www.newrep.org.