By GUY D’ASTOLFO
Audiences who go to “Race” should expect a verbal onslaught that will tear the scab off sensitive topics such as race, sex and rape.
The intense drama by playwright David Mamet will get its Mahoning Valley premiere this weekend in the Youngstown Playhouse’s intimate Moyer Room.
The play is pure Mamet, in that it takes place entirely in a single room, has a very small cast and a lot of sharp dialogue.
The director is Michael Hinge, a longtime veteran at the Oakland Center for the Arts who is making his Playhouse debut. The cast is Kim Voeks, Frank G. Martin, Timothy Thomas and Bill Rees.
“Race” is right in the wheelhouse of Hinge, who specializes in directing plays with strong male characters. His credits include “Death of a Salesman,” “12 Angry Men,” “Bent,” “Hedwig and the Angry Inch” and, most recently, “Doubt.”
Hinge calls “Race” classic Mamet, in that it has raw and challenging dialogue, delivered with speed and hardly a pause. “I like to think it’s a punch in the face on some level,” he said. “You either turn the other cheek or punch back.”
The play, which premiered on Broadway in 2009, takes place in a conference room at a law office. At issue is the case of a wealthy white man who is charged with raping a black woman.
“[The defendant] has come to this law firm because one lawyer is black and one is white, and he thought it would help his case,” said Hinge. “He doesn’t see what he did as being rape.”
The law firm has a third lawyer, a black female.
“She is affected by what’s going on,” said Hinge. “It all has to do with race and sexism and violence and justice.”
To further the dialogue that the play starts, a talk-back session will follow each performance.
Each session will have a different moderator with specific expertise on the themes raised in “Race.” They will include Margaret Silver, a teacher and language arts specialist; Victor Wantatah, a professor of philosophy and religious studies at Youngstown State University; Sean Posey, local historian; Sarah Lowery, feminist activist; Pat Foltz, director, actress and expert on the works of Mamet; and Liz Nalepa, professor of sociology at YSU.
Each moderator will lead audience members in a dissection of the play and their attitudes toward it. In addition, a group of legal professionals will attend to examine the play for its verisimilitude to the practice of law.
“We gathered some people who are familiar with this topic, academically or personally,” said Hinge.
“Mamet felt like this play would force the dialogue about race that President [Barack] Obama called for ... and we want to offer that to those who want to stay and learn more about the play and express their own opinions.”