Racism and the pursuit of justice seem to be two sides of the same coin, forever spinning in our nation’s media and consciousness. For this reason, a play about race will always be timely. For example, just as David Mamet’s latest play, Race, hits South Florida stages , local headlines chronicle the legacy of Rodney King, as well as the ongoing case of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed African-American teen who was shot by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer.
Race is always relevant. Playwright David Mamet knows this — the play debuted on Broadway 3 1/2 years ago — and so does Joe Adler, producing director of GableStage, where Race runs through Aug. 5. Adler directs this thought-provoking and often hilarious drama with a keen ear for its deft dialogue and searing innuendo.
Race features Joe Kimble as Charles Strickland, a wealthy white man who is accused of raping a young black woman. Gregg Weiner and Ethan Henry play Jack Lawson and Henry Brown, partners in an upscale law firm. While they grapple with how to build a strategy to defend Strickland, Susan, a young African-American lawyer who has just joined the firm, challenges her colleagues’ assumptions about race and justice. A newcomer to the Florida theater scene, Jade Wheeler gives a compelling portrayal of Susan, who is as self-possessed as she is calculating. Unlike the male characters, Susan’s last name is never revealed.
Mamet’s plays are driven by cynicism, vitriol, and dark humor, so it’s no surprise that Race presents life’s hard truths in the form of rants, quips, and razor sharp comebacks. Weiner and Henry deliver their lines superbly and all of the actors display spot on timing. As one scene closes, Susan asks: “Are we talking about race or sex here?” and Weiner snaps: “What’s the difference?”
But Race is not just a series of zingers. It’s a fascinating inquiry into racism and racial guilt. When Strickland asks if he will be perceived as guilty because he’s white, Henry Brown, who is African-American, responds: “Fifty years ago. You’re white? Same case. Same facts. You’re innocent.”
It’s not racism or even the facts of the case, but history that might convict Strickland. The lawyer implies a reality that is the underpinning of Mamet’s play: Shame can be more powerful than truth.
Race runs approximately 90 minutes without intermission, but the time speeds by — so much so the ending felt a bit rushed. The play’s climax will pack more of a punch if the actors can downshift from the dialogue’s swift pace. I also wanted to see Susan’s character, upon which so much of the play’s drama relies, come through more forcefully at the end.
GableStage has hit on a trifecta of phenomenal writing, steely direction, and powerful acting. Race is a play for anyone who finds the issue as complex as it is urgent.