Race is a myopic view of the world

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By David Mamet. Directed by David Mackay. A Race Equity Co-op production. At Studio 16 on Thursday, November 15. Continues until December 1

David Mamet is a white man who wrote a play exploring racial tension in a law firm after a white man is accused of raping a young black woman, and I’m a white woman reviewing a production of Mamet’s play. Race is the kind of drama that makes declarations like that mandatory at the outset. I’ve never felt compelled to state my vantage point in such a way before. So does that mean Race Equity Co-op’s production succeeded or that it failed? Well, in keeping with the theme of its subject matter, the answer isn’t black or white.

The company acquits itself beautifully. Director David Mackay moves his actors nimbly around the bare-bones set and through the intricacies of Mamet’s caustic, breakneck dialogue. Craig Erickson’s performance as the man accused (and who apparently can’t be guaranteed a fair trial because he’s rich and white, which, c’mon!) is nuanced, his glassy eyes conveying desperation and cunning in equal measure. Aaron Craven and Kwesi Ameyaw are pitch-perfect as the pontificating lawyers Jack and Henry, respectively, dismantling and rebuilding the case with mental agility. Marsha Regis as Susan, Jack’s young protégé, rises above what’s scripted for her compared to her male counterparts. In Regis’s capable hands, Susan is engaged and dynamic, proud and vulnerable, far exceeding what Mamet put on the page.

And so the problem arises with the play itself. There’s no denying that Mamet is a tremendous writer. At times, his brilliance is on full display in Race. But sometimes he’s guilty of crafting incendiary work just because he can. Under the guise of exorcising his frustrations with political correctness, he comes across as an old man suffering from impotent rage. Is it okay to do that with a play that uses race as its centrepiece? One that places its bets on most members of the audience genuinely hoping to achieve equality and showing us not only that we won’t but that we can’t?

Race is like its slick lawyers, playing fast and loose with big, important, polarizing topics. On some level it did the trick, making me second-guess whether there are any truths to be found in its messy, ugly, sometimes funny conflicts. But it’s like coming out of a hypnotist’s dream. Race is a myopic view of the world, but the production itself is flawless. See it, but don’t get bogged down in Mamet’s “truths”. Perhaps a better conversation to have centres around why Mamet was still grappling with such a tired exploration of racial tension in 2009, when the play premiered.

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out at night
Words like "incendiary" and "divisive" were used to describe Mamet's 'Oleanna' also, and it might be safe to assume the reviewer had that play in mind when citing Mamet for writing such volatile stuff "just because he can". In an interview in the early 90s he claimed that he did not set out to mark off any political territory in that or any other play, but simply looked for things that had lots of conflict so he could make good, tasty, forward moving drama. Conflict is drama. Mamet is a dramatist.

His claim to socio-political impartiality may have a certain "that's my story and I'm sticking to it" air of disingenuity to it, but one has to respect his talent and stature enough to take him at his word. I think he means it. I think Mamet has never tipped his hand all that much, but finds characters who articulate things that he understands are out there in the big conversation that ought to be uncovered and examined.

Someone I know said 'Oleanna' was a terrible, evil thing because they heard that audiences cheered at the end when the frustrated (white male) university professor lashes out physically against his young, female student who questions his authority and validity as an educator. While some may have found that scene worth cheering, I and many, many others found it horrifying, moving and deeply thought-provoking.
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Rating: -7
Vida
Very excited to see a play in Vancouver with a diverse and talented cast tackling the renowned Mamet's material.
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Rating: -2
Colette Nichol
What is one audience members "tired exploration of racial tensions" is another's thought-provoking and impassioned drama. One that I found to be the opposite of myopic. In fact one of the strengths of this play is that it doesn't tell the audience what to think, but rather - through four characters with disparate world views and the ability to be vague, hypocritical, arrogant, vulnerable, and of course fallible - he simply asks us to be interested in the story and keeps us wondering where it will go. And by letting ourselves be interested in the story and the people and the world he shows us, we inevitably begin to question our own "stance" (for lack of a better word...) on races other than our own.

While disagreeing with Ms. Warner on the writing, I do agree with her about the acting. It was a skilfully acted show. The tricky text is handled with ease by all four actors, and the 80 minutes go by as if they were only 30. If you're on the fence about going to this show, I would get off the fence and buy tickets before it closes.
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Rating: -7
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