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.