RACE at A.C.T. a sterling production.

Law firm associate Susan (Susan Heyward) and law firm partners Jack Lawson (A.C.T core acting company member Anthony Fusco, left) and Henry Brown (Chris Butler, second from right) prep their wealthy client Charles Strickland (Kevin O'Rouke) for questioning. Photo by Kevin Berne

RACE by David Mamet. Directed by Irene Lewis. American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary Street, San Francisco, CA 94108. 415-749-2228 or www.act-sf.org. October 21—November 13, 2011

RACE at A.C.T. a sterling production.

There was a conflict of opening nights this week and the decision to select the opening of the national tour of Hair rather than attend David Mamet’s Race could have been a mistake. It has been bandied about that seeing a play the night after its official opening can be problematic since the actors often have a let down diluting the effectiveness of an adrenaline high performance the previous night. A.C.T.’s sterling production of Race proves that axiom wrong.

Mamet has proven his mettle as a chronicler of male-female, political and sexual conflict. This time around he tackles a dual problem of white sexual privilege intertwined with racism and the three scene 85 minutes with no intermission is peppered with his usual street-wise words that oddly do not shock and often enough produce laughter. This is not bad, since this play needs breaks to puncture the tension that inexorably builds to one of the best dagger-thrust curtain lines heard in recent years. It matches the brilliant second act curtain line from August Osage County, “I’m in charge now!”

The ending will not be revealed here, advising the reader to attend the show to make his/her own decision. The he/she conflict is a major sub-text in many of Mamet’s plays and he continues that trend intertwined with the primary plot that on the surface is a legal story ripped from the headlines before appearing on TV’s Law and Order. Mamet’s play will certainly bring to mind the recent problems of Dominique Strauss-Kahn accused of raping a Hispanic hotel employee.

The client in Mamet’s play is, like Straus-Kahn, Charles Strickland (Kevin O’Rourke), an affluent white respected giant in the world of finance accused of raping a black woman. He has been “tried and convicted in the court of public opinion” through the news media. He has enough dirty linen in his personal life to make it difficult for any defense attorney(s) to mount a credible defense. He seeks the services of a two partner group, one Henry Brown (Chris Butler) is black the other, Jack Lawson (Anthony Fusco) is white. They have recently hired a third Harvard grad black female Susan (Susan Heyward) into their group. Knowing Mamet’s predilection for predatory females who appear to be members of the ‘weaker sex’, so it is with Susan. I would suspect that he attempts to give universality to that idiosyncrasy by not giving Susan a last name.

Strickland, insists that he is innocent, sex was consensual sex and that they were lovers. Another law firm has dumped the case absolutely certain it was not winnable, especially since creditable witnesses, a preacher and his wife have overheard him use vile racist’s remarks during the alleged sexual attack. The astute Jack Lawson during the investigative phase has discovered an overlooked missing link involving a red sequin dress that indicates the sex act was, as Strickland described it, and he is not guilty of the crime.

The storyline is just a framework for Mamet to indulge himself in airing social injustice, defining malfeasance in all and skewering accepted or hidden mores of his characters. His signature style of dialog is a pleasure to hear and hides the abrasive foul language interspersed with his philosophical passages cruelly suggesting that most agendas are rife with self-interest and betrayal. Race, of course is the main theme but he also impales the legal profession, both the prosecutorial and defensive sides of the law.

Mamet’s dialog is extremely difficult for actors but all four actors do a yeoman job and create a dynamic thoughtful evening. The twists and turns of the case will keep you somewhat riveted to your seat even if you disagree with the dark, rough nature of Mamet’s plays.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of www.theatreworldinternetmagazine.com