Review: Race by Mitch and Murray Productions

One of art's great purposes is to hold a mirror up to society. In Race, David Mamet takes a scalpel to it, dredging to light beliefs, prejudices, and rituals that lie just below the surface.

The subjects examined in this riveting and ferociously intelligent work are vast; race, sexuality, empathy, psychology, our game-like legal system, and the trust we place in one another all take a turn on the examination table.

Craig Erickson, Marsha Regis, Kwesi Ameyaw, and Aaron Craven

The framework for this explanation is immediate and compelling. A middle aged, white business man, Charles Strickland, stands accused of raping a young black women. Having left his first lawyer, he has come to the offices of attorneys Henry Brown and Jack Lawson, a black and white man respectively. Also in the room is Susan, a young black lawyer who is the company's latest hire.

The play opens with Henry declaring O.J. was guilty and Rodney King was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Shortly after, Jack points out Charles pretended not to know their names when being introduced, even though he knew who would be Mr. Brown and Mr. Lawson by skin colour. The statements establish the central argument: when it comes to race, we adhere to unspoken, collectively held beliefs and abide by illogical, apologetic or blame-based patterns of behaviour.

The challenge that lies before Brown and Lawson is therefore how they can convince a jury not to side with a young, potentially-abused black women, but a wealthy and privileged white male. In the office they begin to plan out their case as though it were chess, with pageantry, misdirection, sexuality, and race standing in as game pieces. Their aloof role as puppeteers is compromised, however, and they quickly find themselves personally facing the same tactics they were so eager to apply in the courtroom.

Director David Mackay has assembled a cast who possess not only great talent, but also great intellect; they deliver Mamet's complex themes and ideas with clarity, passion, and precision. Craig Erickson is a wonderful enigma as the accused Strickland. One can simply not quite get a grip or reach a conclusion about the simultaneously sympathetic, untrustworthy, dangerous, and pitiable figure.

The team of Henry Brown and Jack Lawson are respectively performed by Kewsi Ameyaw and Aaron Craven. Ameyaw brings a knowing mindfulness to Brown, painting a consummate professional who keenly understands the architecture lying beneath society's artifice. This is balanced well by Craven's kinetic and high-strung Lawson, who possesses a hyper-competitive hunger for victory in the courtroom.

As the new hire, Marsha Regis gives us the great pleasure of watching an astute mind solve a puzzle, as she challenges and deciphers the complex layers of the game being played (and eventually adds a few of her own).

Race is a rare play that stimulates both heart and mind. This production more than realizes the potential of the script, crafting a tightly-paced performance that will set your pulse racing in the theatre and your mind returning to it in the days and weeks that follow.

Race runs until Dec. 1 at Studio 16 Theatre (Granville & 7th).
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Tickets and info at mitchandmurrayproductions.com
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Categories: Musings