If you doubt that issues of race permeate our lives, the first fifteen minutes of David Mamet's excellent "Race" should change your mind. The show opened on Broadway in a two act version in 2009, but has been trimmed with excellent results to an 85 minute one act in the current ACT production. It is precise and crisp, with perfect casting and issues that you will revisit for days afterwards.
Jack Lawson (Anthony Fusco, on left above) and Henry Brown (Chris Butler) are law partners. They smell a big case when Charles Strickland walks in their door, asking for representation in a case where he has been accused of the rape of a black woman in a hotel.
Strickland (Kevin O'Rourke) looks like Mitt Romney. He is everything a jury will dislike: rich, aloof, entitled and, worst of all, white. He appears to be guilty, though he proclaims innocence, something the experienced lawyers know has nothing to do with conviction or acquittal. The legal system is about only three things, says Lawson: "hatred, fear and envy." A jury will automatically hate and fear their wealthy client.
A third lawyer in the firm is Susan (Susan Heyward), whose position becomes more and more convoluted as time goes on. She is an attorney, but she is also a black woman who is convinced Strickland is guilty. She knows in her heart that due to his influence her client will probably walk. This puts her in an uncomfortable situation.
Mamet's dialogue is brilliant and incisive. It is hard to know which pillar of American values is being hit hardest -- the law, sex, race, privilege or just plain humanity. All people are stupid and prone to blindness, Lawson says. Jews feel guilt. Blacks feel shame. It's all about feelings of inferiority or guilt about superiority. The lawyer's job is to simply tell a better story to the jury than the other lawyer does.
Whatever David Mamet is feeling these days, we are sure of one thing: we wouldn't want to be his lawyer.
RATINGS: ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼
The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Divison awards "Race" Four Stars. It is brilliant theater -- the cast (especially Butler and Fusco), Irene Lewis's flawless direction and Chris Barreca's law office set (another of those A.C.T. sets that makes you smile in anticipation the second you turn the corner and see the stage) couldn't be much better. Most of all, Mamet's plot leads us towards an ending we do not expect, while at the same time forcing us to face uncomfortable truths about ourselves and our world.
It is interesting to this reviewer, and a point to consider for a perspective audience, that many reviewers across the country have not been enthusiastic about this show. It is hard to see how that could be, unless possibly the subject matter -- race, especially -- is just too uncomfortable. Perhaps lines like this one -- when Henry reminds Jack that a preacher's testimony will not be able to be impeached because "white clergymen are allowed to say fuck, nigger and bitch in one sentence" -- are too much for us still.
Don't miss "Race." Maybe you'll figure out who's winning.
415 Geary Street, San Francisco
Through Nov. 13