“You want to tell me about black people?”
In director Carl Jordan’s sensitive, doggedly humane staging of David Mamet’s 2009 drama Race – running through March 26 at Left Edge Theater – that confrontational line comes early, as a brilliant black lawyer, Henry (Dorian Lockett, funny, furious, and absolutely superb) faces off against a potential client, the cocky millionaire Charles (Chris Ginesi, nicely layered), whose been accused of raping a black woman. It’s a sneaky line.
David Mamet is, of course, a white man, writing a play about black people, aggressively tackling the subjects of bigotry, black rage, white guilt, white privilege, cultural suspicion, and workplace sexism, surgically uncovering—with effective bouts of Mamet-style humor – the lies that so many Americans tell each other, and themselves, about race and racism.
Race is certainly ambitious, and though the script bears one or two irritating flaws—a typically under-written female part, for one—Mamet’s best trick is to ask hard questions and then not even attempt to answer them. He knows that to offer any actual answers about such subjects would be cloying at best and offensive at worst. Instead, he simply presents a number of juicy, interesting, uncomfortable things to think about, then tosses in a few last-minute surprises and sends us away wondering what-the-hell it was that just happened.
It works. Mike Pavone, as Brown’s cagey law partner Jack, is wonderful, a blunt-and-befuddled, ever-moving force of nature, verbally bulldozing his way through everyone in this path – especially Susan (Jazmine Pierce), the law firm’s cautiously watchful new hire. Pierce, intense and focused, does what she can with the role, which frequently requires her to stand silently and observe the men plotting their defense of Charles—though her character does become increasingly pivotal as the plot twists stack up.
It’s hard to say anything more without spoiling the intricately composed story.
It’s no shock that Mamet, ever the master of profane conversation, peppers his play with four-letter-words, racial epithets and effectively hammer-hard dialogue, which is as much about sexism as it is about racism. At one point, when the two male lawyers concoct a defensive plan designed around a jury’s discomfort with interracial sex, Susan points out, “This case isn’t about sex. It’s about rape,” to which the men brusquely reply, “What’s the difference?”
Intelligent and raw, probing and disturbing, Left Edge Theater’s Race might offer no answers, but the questions it asks couldn’t be better timed, or more important.