Some Americans think that we talk about racism too much, others not enough. Regardless of which applies to you, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Mamet wants to talk about it some more. And talk about it he does, bluntly, crassly, obscenely, and pointedly in his play Race. Director Sharon Graci, co-founder of PURE Theatre, chose Mamet’s script because of its provocative topic. Quoting a character in the play, Graci says, “‘Race is the most incendiary issue of our time,’ and Mamet gets past all our political correctness, which prevents us from really discussing anything.”
PURE’s production is the South Carolina premiere of Mamet’s latest work, which was first produced on Broadway in 2009 with Mamet directing. Not surprisingly, it stirred controversy. In a New York Times op-ed piece, Mamet wrote, “It is a play about lies. All drama is about lies. When the lie is exposed, the play is over. Race, like sex, is a subject on which it is near impossible to tell the truth. When the truth is revealed, the play is over.” As with most of Mamet’s work, perspective is truth.
Race analyzes the issue of racism from the perspectives of the four likable characters set in any big city at anytime. Charles Strickland (R.W. Smith), an older, wealthy, married white man, is accused of rape by his young, black girlfriend in a hotel room. Strickland seeks counsel from attorneys at a small law firm, Jack Lawson (David Mandel) and Henry Brown (City Paper contributor Michael Smallwood). Jack is white and Henry is black. Their legal assistant, Susan (Liza Dye), is also black. “It’s this wild Mamet ride,” Graci says.
In true Mamet style, the characters are combative and strive for dominance as they volley verbal assaults across the stage. “Mamet is not afraid to say it,” Graci says. “He pulls the gloves off and starts swinging.”
Race is set apart from some of Mamet’s previous works in that he leaves the audience with no clear conclusion. It would be reasonable to expect an unofficial verdict, but Mamet does not satisfy that predictable assumption.
Mamet has an endless supply of words and many of them are obscene. As he sees it, it’s the nature of the world we live in. His writing breaks through the polite boundaries that we erect in daily life.
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