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Theater Mon Jan 30 2012

Mamet's Race Mixes Well at the Goodman

goodman_race.jpg"Race. Sex. What's the difference?"

Not a damned thing when sifted through the all-American strainer that splatters immutable stains over victim and perpetrator equally, encasing both with historical and modern-times tribalism, a perfect mound of vanilla ice cream, covered in chocolate and sprinkled with the poison of centuries of minor slights and gargantuan horrors, a concoction that perpetually screams out, "Take a bite of opportunity from me, and I'll take a chunk of humanity from you." David Mamet's Race sublimely rolls out onto the Goodman stage like a wave of every black-white encounter washed ashore at Plymouth Rock.

A billionaire walks into a law firm sparsely populated by two partners and their recently hired associate. The billionaire is in deep and well-publicized trouble, a scandal of epic proportions that crosses the boundaries public gentility and the boundaries of a place for everyone, and everyone in their places. He has crossed into the racial twilight zone. His crime: he's been accused of raping a black woman who accompanied him to his hotel suite. What's immediately established: the accuser had accompanied the billionaire on numerous occasions to a hotel suite, and with the exception of their last meeting, the billionaire financially compensated his now-accuser.

But Lawson & Brown, Esq. refuse to politely accept the screeching proclamations of billionaire Charles Strickland's (Patrick Clear, The Madness of King George, King Lear) innocence on the seated charge of rape. They're the Heckle and Jeckle of jurisprudence, and no matter how much retainer that Strickland's good for, the interracial legal team ain't gonna lap up his mother's milk so easy, and full throttle they go in on Strickland -- the black Brown (Geoffrey Owens, "The Cosby Show", Dream) shoving down the hot stew of "what black people think, what black people hate" as the white Lawson (Marc Grapey, "Sex and the City", Griller) serves frozen-buttered rolls of cynicism and doubt at the sincerity of Strickland's pronouncements of innocence and his paper-thin reasons for choosing the double-shingle services of this particular law firm.

As Strickland waits for his fate to be decided in the reception area by the partners, associate Susan (Tamberla Perry, The Brother/Sister Plays, Boss) makes the decision to take on Strickland as a client for the firm, a decision that both Lawson and Brown see as a lose-lose proposition, no matter the verdict they recover; but, thanks to their over-efficient associate, the partners are contractually obligated to Strickland, and they go all in, giving the case the ol' Johnny Cochran and F. Lee Bailey. Brown is not surprised, but nonetheless insulted, and blames Susan for the mishap that forces him to represent a white man "who probably" raped a black woman. He accuses Susan of letting her "color get in front of her intelligence." Lawson agrees with his partner that Strickland will be more trouble that no matter the check he can write is worth, but Lawson has little faith in humanity, and Strickland has to be all in a day's work for Lawson.

What most Americans will not do (and when they "do," it comes out all wrong), the Strickland case forces Lawson, Brown and Susan to discuss the minutia of race in America every minute that's billed to Strickland, who must reveal during an interrogation with his new attorneys that his choice was tactical -- if Strickland could get the reticent Brown, to walk into court and vigorously defend his innocence, he may have a chance to vanquish his charges. Brown equally despises and admires Strickland for his strategy, but he soon becomes a Stockholm prisoner to Strickland, and no matter how many times the worm turns on their case, he moves closer to Strickland, no matter that his partner Lawson keeps his distance, waiting for the other shoe to drop from this race-baited centipede.

As their defense comes together, Strickland comes apart, little by little. There is reasonable doubt equal to reasonable guilt, and the case hangs in the balance on a single exhibit -- the "gun in the first act" or "the bloody glove," so to speak. Brown continues to move towards sympathy, camaraderie for Strickland; Lawson keeps his focus on solidifying their ace-in-the-hole; Susan keeps her distance with lowly associate busywork, until a bite-sized bit of Strickland's youth catches up to him, and lawyers and billionaire client alike must face what cannot be legalese-ed away; it's the tar babies from the past that stick it to us in the present; Strickland's tar baby, as with America's, will have to be assuaged, even if by means of self-immolation; and be assured, all that signed on to his billionaire's cruise of denial and self-absorption will be awarded permanent third degree burns to the psyche.

Director Chuck Smith works this cast into 95 minutes of amazed frenzy. It's a drum-tight production, with all four members of the cast melding into the word and deed as Mamet meant it to be. Not one millisecond of production time is wasted, or even stammers in delivery; Smith and Company were built for this. The set design mimics the "war rooms" of any given law firm, and wraps the production and cast in the realness of its subject matter.

The best theatrical ticket in town is the Goodman's Race. Go see it; especially if you can't talk about "it" or you can't stop talking about "it," when that "it" could very well re-set the discourse on race in America. Mamet's pen intertwined with Smith's velvet glove direction seamlessly reap the whirlwind of human stain sowed for half-millennium. We are honored to be offered a portal to the question of how we all got here.

~*~

Read LaShawn Williams' interview with actor Geoffrey Owens.

 
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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »

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