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Weathervane’s ‘Race’ thought-provoking play

2/6/2014 - West Side Leader
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By David Ritchey

Johnetta Harris (Susan) and Scott Shriner (Jack) star in Weathervane Playhouse’s production of “Race.”
Photo courtesy of Weathervane Playhouse
MERRIMAN VALLEY — Weathervane Playhouse is now staging through Feb. 16 David Mamet’s “Race,” a play dealing with the question of whether a sex act was rape or consensual.

Mamet complicated the plot by making the man white and the woman black. Weathervane is offering “Race” in order to provoke discussions about race in the Akron area. The theater is offering talk-back sessions with the play’s director, Jennifer Kay Jeter, and its four actors immediately following the Sunday matinees, allowing audience members to “continue the conversation” after the curtain rings down.

In “Race,” the story is set in the law offices of two attorneys and their legal assistant. They find themselves defending a wealthy white businessman, Charles Strickland (James Rizopulos), who was accused of raping a black woman.

Charles holds a prominent place in the community. He thinks he can hold a news conference or distribute a news release and the media will sway the court of public opinion to his favor. 

The audience watches the two attorneys, Jack Lawson (Scott Shriner) and Henry Brown (Brian Armour), plan their case to have Charles declared not guilty. They work with the help of their legal assistant, Susan (Johnetta Harris). Susan and Henry are black, and Jack is white.

The attorneys watch the plans for their court case fall apart because of their own racial prejudices.

Fortunately, this one-act play only runs 75 minutes. Mamet wrote a script filled with redundancies. A good editor could cut 10 to 15 minutes from the script and not damage the plot. Or did Mamet include the redundancies to guarantee the audience would not miss those plot points he considered important?

I would like to see this script blown open and provide the answers to many of the questions it provokes and leaves unanswered.

Jeter had her hands full with a confrontational script, actors who seem uncomfortable with their lines (or the provocative language in their lines) and the layered script.

The story deals with the objective work needed to build a case. Then, the playwright moves the story to a racial battle among the characters on the stage and, finally, the plot moves to “all” lines: “All African Americans do …” or “all white men do …” The three attorneys on the stage have enough education and enough experience to avoid “all” speeches. Yet, the playwright gives them these prejudicial “all” lines.

This script is thought provoking. The play will have audience members leaving the theater talking and thinking about something besides where they parked their cars.

The script deals with adult themes. The language is typical of Mamet, coarse and foul. I’ve heard most of the forbidden words in my life. I heard most of them again in this production. I’m intrigued listening to actors I’ve heard in other shows as they moved toward a word not in their public vocabulary. They seemed to pause or needed to think before dropping another f-bomb, c-bomb or n-bomb.

“Race” is not for the faint of heart, for those timid about language or those afraid to face the problems whirling about in this country. “Race” is for those willing to confront unpleasant issues and to, perhaps, see life as Mamet thinks it is.

For ticket information, call 330-836-2626.


David Ritchey has a Ph.D. in communications and is a professor of communications at The University of Akron. He is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association.

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