By Marlene S. Gaylinn

In “Race,” playwright, David Mamet, tackles an explosive subject as he cynically explores racial sensitivities. Although it’s seldom openly expressed, even well educated individuals must constantly monitor their natural behaviors and watch what they say in mixed company. No one wants to risk being called “prejudiced." Race is a touchy subject because folks will fiercely defend their own heritage while claiming to be open minded. It prompts one to wonder if group identity is good and whether we can ever solve the differences that divide us.

The play is set in a law firm where two defense attorneys - one white and one black, plus a newly hired legal assistant (who just “happens to be” both black and a woman) are debating whether to defend a white client accused of raping a black woman. Arguments over the merits of the case, the client’s guilt or innocence and tactics regarding his defense are colored by each individual’s cultural background. Deeply ingrained attitudes are revealed during these heated arguments. Depending on the casual observer’s point of view, which is often swayed by what is culturally acceptable, a person’s motivations might be called either altruistic or downright selfish. It’s hard to believe that complex, human motivations can also be ambiguous.

Why, for example, did “Jack,” the white attorney, decide to take on his black partner, Henry? And, why did the firm hire a black woman as a legal assistant - despite the fact that she lied on her application? Was it simply a nice gesture to give black folks a break, or did integration mean gaining more clients and an advantage over the firm’s competitors - and if so, what’s morally wrong with that? On the other hand, if these two black people came with feelings of distrust and felt they might be exploited by working with a white person, why did they apply for their jobs in the first place? Isn’t that being deceitful? Apparently, it all boils down to a common trait that crosses all cultural barriers - self-preservation. Most everyone is motivated by self-interest.

To go into more details about racial conflicts, the discussion over whether the raped woman was a black whore or a girlfriend, the balking over an important piece of evidence and how things finally develop for the client, would spoil this splendid theatre experience. Let it simply be known that this professional cast is exceptional. R.Ward Duffy plays the dynamic, white lawyer whose determination and control is mesmerizing. His challenging, black partner, Avery Glymph, acts intelligently and with dignity. The independent, black, legal assistant is sensitively played by Taneisha Duggan, and Jack Koenig, the wealthy, white client, is typical of our pleasantly behaved, yet spoiled politicians who are sometimes caught with their pants down.

There’s a lot to ponder in this powerful play that is admirably directed by Tazewell Thompson, who just “happens to be black” (carefully stated for political correctness).

Plays in Hartford until July
Tickets: 860-527-7838

This review appears in “On Connecticut Theatre”/July 2011

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