“Race” Crosses The Finish Line With Little Fanfare

Remember the classic line that showed a white person didn’t have a drop of prejudice in him? It usually started with “but…” and ended with “some of my best friends are black.” Well, other than Brian Piccolo and Gale Sayers in “Brian’s Song,” that statement usually had no meaning. In “Race,” the current offering on the Mainstage at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, David Mamet shows us how little times have changed.

Jeff Talbot, Morocco Omari and Mark Elliot Wilson in David Mamet's "Race." Photo credit: Jerry Naunheim Jr.

The manifestations of that famous phrase are still around in a different form, but Mamet suggests that the skepticism and distrust between races still exist. After all, don’t forget that most white people were “honkey’s” as well. You’ve got the extremes from hatred and racism to being tolerant to actual friendships, but according to Mamet’s take, there is, always has been and always will be tension between the races.

A solid cast makes “Race” a great evening of theatre. Morocco Omari and Jeff Talbott, partners in a law firm, spar over the merits of taking a highly charged case where an older, rich and influential white man is accused of raping a black maid. This story- “ripped from the headlines,”- revolves around the man’s contention that they are in love and have been carrying on this relationship for some time.

Mark Elliot Wilson plays the accused man but we don’t really see that much of him as he’s relegated to another room where he is basically writing his life story of “crimes and misdemeanors.” But added to the mix is a young black woman who the law firm has brought in to intern played by Zoey Martinson. She becomes the catalyst in this highly charged controversy and plays a key role in a plot that, although easy to follow, is truly complex. The only major flaw in the pivotal point of the plot begs the question, in this day and age aren’t there always crime scene photos? Don’t want to spoil too much, but (giving credit where credit is due) my wife was the first to bring up this subject at our post-theatre discussion.

It’s great to have Timothy Near back and directing a show for the Rep. Her crisp, clear direction makes this unusually timed play (a 35 minute first act and 50 minute second act) run smoothly as we ponder the same questions the actors are wrestling with. The super-polished office space is right on the mark as designed by John Ezell and the Brian Sidney Bembridge lighting design adds to the modern feel. The Rusty Wandall sound design brings us a strong, signature opening to each scene reminiscent of the famous “Law & Order” haunting, two-note catch-phrase.

Zoey Martinson and Jeff Talbot in "Race" at the Rep. Photo credit: Jerry Naunheim Jr.

“Race” is about race and several other eternal ¬†problems, but Mamet’s script often fails to capture a solid thread. In fact, in a peculiar way, it could be called dated. It really comes down to much ado about nothing as the same questions are brought up that we’ve encountered in the past with no resolution (good luck with that) or any new ground being covered. For instance, I think there are more true friendships between the races today than the days of “some of my best friends…” and “honkey.” What “Race” is, is an entertaining evening of theatre with dynamic actors and solid direction. Even if it does cover “warmed over” territory, it’s really worth a trip to once again see strong theatre on the Rep stage. And, of course, there’s always the game of counting the number of times David Mamet uses the “F” bomb (approximately 25 in the first act, 35 in the second). Still not close to his all time record in “American Buffalo.”

Enjoy David Mamet’s “Race” at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis through March 4th. Call them at 314-968-4925 or visit at http://www.repstl.org for more information.

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