As he proved in Oleanna (1992), when he skewered Political Correctness in academia, infamously profane and famously profound Chicago playwright, screenwriter, and director David Mamet is fearless when it comes time to confronting hot-button issues. He is not only unafraid to gore some of society’s sacred cows — he gleefully makes cutlets out of them. In Hot Summer Nights and Theatre Raleigh‘s eyebrow-raising presentation of Race (2009), Mamet explores the vast gulf in perception that still divides White America from Black America, especially when it comes to allegations of white-on-black crime.
The cases of Tawana Brawley in Upstate New York and Crystal Gail Mangum right here in Durham, NC have become a kind of litmus test. Either the (predominantly white) Powers That Be pulled all kinds of strings to exonerate the guilty white men that these two African-American women accused of rape; or the women are liars, pouring gasoline on smoldering racial tensions rather than admit that their accusations are false.
In Race, David Mamet concocts a similar scenario. White billionaire Charles Strickland (superbly portrayed with all his tics and twitches by David McClutchey) is accused of viciously assaulting and raping a much-younger black woman in a hotel room. Circumstantial evidence and several eyewitnesses support parts of her claim, but Strickland adamantly insists that he is innocent — and he implores white liberal attorney Jack Lawson (1995 Tony Award® nominee Alan Campbell) and his more conservative African-American law partner Henry Brown (Erick Pinnick) to take his case.
Lawson and Brown and their new African-American associate Susan (Lormarev Jones) are initially disinclined to represent Strickland, and they subject him to the Third Degree to poke holes in his story. But, amazingly, Strickland’s version of the events in question holds up; and facts emerge that cast doubt on the veracity of the accuser and her version of what happened at the hotel. To say much more than that would be to rob HSN and TR audiences of the delightful surprises that lie at every twist and turn of David Mamet’s roller-coaster ride of a story, with its dizzying highs and stomach-churning lows, as the playwright-provocateur examines how racial attitudes affect the perception of events and the inference of the guilt or innocence of the parties involved.
Tony nominee Alan Campbell, who created the role of Joe Gillis in the hit Broadway musical Sunset Boulevard, gives a riveting performance as Jack Lawson, whose initial distaste for his client Charles Strickland persists, even as he becomes more and more convinced of the odious man’s innocence.
Erick Pinnick adds a compelling characterization of the urbane bow-tied Henry Brown, who may loathe Strickland’s racial attitudes but loves the law more; and Lormarev Jones is the mouse that roared as she reveals more and more of Susan’s prickly personality throughout the evening.
David Mamet turns the racial stereotypes of Black America and White America on their ear, and HSN and TR artistic director Lauren Kennedy and her crackerjack cast extract each and every comic and dramatic gem from Mamet’s script and give it a nice polish, even as the verboten subject matter of Race has HSN and TR patrons squirming in their seats (and no doubt rehashing the plot twists on their drive home).
Scenic designer Rick Young gives the offices of Lawson and Brown some nice architectural flourishes, and costume designer LeGrande Smith creates a nice contrast between the spiffy business attire of the three lawyers and the casual wear of their wealthy client. All in all, this third production of Hot Summer Nights and Theatre Raleigh‘s stellar 2012 season looks like a million bucks.
But it is the provocative performances of the cast, under the sure-handed guidance of Broadway veteran Lauren Kennedy, as well as the explosive subject matter of David Mamet’s incendiary script, that catapulted Wednesday’s opening-night audience from their seats — to deliver a much-deserved standing ovation to the HSN and TR cast and crew.
SECOND OPINION: July 26th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/2012/07/26/2222818/hot-summer-nights-race-is-engaging.html; July 25th New York, NY Playbill.com preview by Andrew Gans: http://www.playbill.com/news/article/168389-Alan-Campbell-Stars-in-David-Mamets-Race-Beginning-July-25-Lauren-Kennedy-Directs; and July 23rd Raleigh, NC BroadwayWorld.com Raleigh preview by BWW News Desk: http://raleigh.broadwayworld.com/article/Lauren-Kennedy-Directs-Alan-Campbell-in-Theatre-Raleighs-RACE-20120723. (Note: To read Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s online version of the July 25th Triangle Theater Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2012/07/lauren-kennedy-will-direct-her-husband-tony-nominee-alan-campbell-in-race-by-david-mamet/.)
Hot Summer Nights and Theatre Raleigh present RACE at 8 p.m. July 27 and 28, 3 p.m. July 29, 8 p.m. Aug. 1-4, and 3 p.m. Aug. 5 in the K.D. & Sara Lynn Kennedy Theatre in back of the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.
TICKETS: $24 ($20 students, seniors, and active-duty military personnel).
BOX OFFICE: 866-811-4111 or https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/cal/27655.
INFORMATION: 919-480-5166 or email@example.com.
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.
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