One of the most noted playwrights in our modern era is a man known to the world as David Mamet. Famous for his very angry plays, Mamet has tackled a variety of tough subjects over the past forty years. Any local theater that attempts his work is considered brave; and this is the exact word that I would use to describe Theatreworks New Milford’s current production of “Race”.
One would assume that a play called “Race” would be a racially charged piece. This would be a correct assumption. But on top of the extreme in-your-face nature of the racial themes of this play, Mamet also tackles misogyny, workplace ethics, and religion. It is a daring piece that only the strongest will attempt. Having worked with Director Arnold Daley as recently as a few months ago, I was in full belief that he would do this delicate work justice and I was not let down.
Upon entering the theater, the audience is greeted to an office set that looks strangely like it belongs in Twelve Angry Men, another difficult piece of theater written by Reginald Rose. Once the play starts, we are introduced to Charles Strickland (Will Jeffries), an older white man accused of raping a black woman in a hotel room. With him are his potential lawyers Henry Brown (Kevin Knight), Jack Lawson (Aaron Kaplan), and new hire Susan (Danique Ashley). Why has Strickland, a hugely wealthy Caucasian man chosen this particular law firm to save his clearly guilty hide? Because Henry Brown (And Susan, though Strickland does not know that she is part of the equation) is black, and he feels that a black lawyer will be more able to convince a jury of his questionable innocence. Throughout the course of the play, Mamet uses his words to bring a complicated situation to life.
To say that this play is difficult is an understatement. Mamet very purposely uses words that we as a society avoid with every fiber of our being. To further belabor this point, Kaplan and Knight, who are the two actors who use the words the most, visibly have a split second of discomfort using them. Whether this is brilliant acting or an involuntary reaction is impossible to tell, but it does not matter – the effect is palpable and lends a feeling of realness to the action on stage.
Having worked onstage with Aaron Kaplan and Will Jeffries in the past, I was most excited to see their performances. This production marked a comeback for Jeffries, as he has been on performance hiatus for about a year and it was great seeing him back in action. His portrayal of the sleezy Charles Strickland at first made me wonder if he actually were innocent or guilty – until the defining moment later in the show which made it all fall into place. Kaplan’s performance as the borderline arrogant Jack Lawson is powerful yet nuanced, like a bull about to charge but holding back for whatever reason. New to my repertoire of actors is Kevin Knight as the calculating Henry Brown, who was the perfect counterpart to Kaplan’s raging Lawson. Newcomer Danique Ashley held her own as Susan, playing a role originated on Broadway by none other than Scandal’s Kerry Washington. Not an easy task for a young performer.
If you’re looking for a piece of theater that truly makes you think and you have the constitution to be made extremely uncomfortable for an hour and a half, I highly recommend this show. Race runs for one more weekend at Theatreworks New Milford. Tickets are $25 with reserved seating.
Final Performances are March 9, 10 (matinee), 15, 16
Friday & Saturday 8:00 PM
Sunday 2:00 PM
Tickets Adult $25
Running time: about 85 minutes with NO intermission
Box Office 860.350.6863
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