Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

June 13, 2011


TheaterWorks, Hartford, CT
through July 10, 2011
by Stacie Beland and Mark Axelson

There is a sign that greets patrons of TheaterWorks as they enter the theater:  "If you are offended by harsh language, please note that this play was written by the guy who more or less invented the stuff." To be sure, David Mamet has had a long history of incendiary writing. "Race" is no exception.  The plot is simple: two lawyers (both men; one white, one black) and their legal assistant (a black woman) attempt to decide if they will take on a new client.  he client, a wealthy white man accused of raping a black woman, maintains that he is innocent. With these dynamics in place, "Race" shows the audienct that no one is innocent.

Tazewell Thompson's direction shines in the production, making this show real, and raw-particularly when dealing with a topic of so many layers and veneers. Each of the four actors' performances are flawless. R. Ward Duffy, in a commanding portrayal of caucasian lawyer Jack, plays his role with emphatic sincerity. He gives us a very real performance, particularly when he is confronted with examples of his own bias. Avery Glymph as Henry, Jack's partner at the firm, offers a subtle performance of a conflicted man, the perfect foil for Jack's fervor. Glymph's Henry is a complicated figure, and watching his delivery is a gift. Taneisha Duggan as Susan, the black legal assistant working at the firm, is a joy. As the show opens, she is onstage nearly the entire time, but rarely speaks. It is Duggan's fine stage presence, even when silent, that allows her character to arc. In Duggan's performance, we see a strong woman who is very, very real. Jack Koenig, as the wealthy accused man Charles, is excellent in his portrayal of a man caught in a windstorm of race, the perception of bias, and real bias. His Charles is the perfect picture of a man who has never had to worry about what others thought until the harsh light of the media illuminates him. Together, these actors give an unblemished production.

To be sure, fine writing and an excellent production are reasons alone to see this show. What is more important, however, is for a production to put its audience on the edge of its seat (so to speak) and drive conversations in the lobby at intermission, on the trip home, and for days afterward. It is a show that makes one think and forces dialogue. What really happened to the woman in the red dress? Who is racist? What is bias? The show does not promise answers, but perhaps discussion is the first step.