Jobsite’s ‘Race’ enhanced, hindered by dialogue
Published: Monday, May 21, 2012
Updated: Monday, May 21, 2012 01:05
Like so many situations revolving around race, what is left unsaid is often more telling than what is said.
This was no exception in Jobsite Theater’s performance of David Mamet’s “Race,” playing at the Straz Center’s Shimberg Playhouse.
“Race” revolves around a law firm run by two lawyers: Jack (Paul J. Potenza), a white man, and Henry (“ranney”), a black man. Also employed at the law firm is Susan (USF alumna Tia Jemison), a young, attractive black female lawyer called to assist in the case of Charles (Ned Averill-Snell), a wealthy and powerful white man accused of raping a black woman.
At the end of an initial meeting with Charles, Jack and Henry are forced not to take on Charles as a client after “missteps” in Susan’s work on the case.
The three main characters debate the innocence of Charles, a complex character well-played by Averill-Snell, who presents his character as an unlikable man with an element of sadness that is impossible to ignore, and at some level, to pity.
The play is owned, however, by the powerful performances of Jack and Henry, whose dialogue is full of the quick, shocking words that make a trademark Mamet play. Potenza and “ranney” share the kind of chemistry that makes Mamet’s words believable and less aggressive, almost commonplace in what would normally be their uncomfortable usage.
Jemison’s character is limited by Mamet’s writing — not uncommon for a female in a Mamet play — but throughout her demure and controlled performance, the audience catches glimpses that Susan is smarter than her male counterparts suspect — perhaps even crafty in her “missteps” that cause the firm to reject the case of the powerful and white Charles.
Again, what is unsaid is more telling than what is said.
Though technically a legal drama, there is little suspense in “Race.” Instead we get a mirror held up to society’s stereotypes and hard-held — and even harder-concealed — racial discrimination.
The words that go unspoken suggest that no one can really know the extent of someone’s racism. Addiotnally, how one might use race to his or her advantage can also never be proven.
While the play has all the edgy, intense elements of a typical Mamet production, “Race” is less effective in its approach of a difficult subject matter, lacking the typical impudence that has made his work famous.
In spite of a stellar and believable cast, brilliant stage direction and impressive set and costume design, the play, while enjoyable, lacks true nerve, the fault of which lies only with Mamet’s writing.
As the actors took their final bow and the curtain fell and the audience stood to give the cast and a crew a well-deserved standing ovation, one had to wonder how much of the applause was for the impressive performance of “Race” and how much was simply an apology for everything that remained unexamined, unidentified and most of all, unsaid.
“Race” runs through June 3, with performances Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 4 p.m. Tickets are $24.50.