By ERIC mccrea
Some subjects are not brought up in polite company. At least, that’s what we’ve all come to accept. The Youngstown Playhouse’s production of David Mamet’s “Race” challenges that assumption, and moreover, encourages discussion of racial issues in our society.
Though “Race” touches on other topical subjects, such as money, power, sexism, betrayal and the less-than-noble processes of our legal system, the title spotlights what Mamet expects you to notice the most.
Warning: The play may be offensive to some audiences.
The story, set in a law office, begins with a white man, Charles Strickland, played by Bill Rees, meeting with lawyers he may hire to defend him against accusations of raping a black woman. Lawyers Jack Lawson (Frank G. Martin) and Henry Brown (Timothy R. Thomas) are under consideration by Strickland because one of them is black and one of them is white.
Lawson’s protege Susan, played by Kim Voeks, may not be of much concern to Strickland, but she certainly should be. From the very first line, it becomes clear that Mamet is pulling no punches. The dialogue throughout the play is not appropriate for young viewers but is effective at spawning a discussion on race, as was the playwright’s goal.
The cast, assembled by director Michael Hinge, is small but powerful. Though Rees appears in the show only sparingly, his effectively subtle waffle between guilty and innocent serves as a maypole around which the other cast members must dance.
Martin carries much of the weight of the show, barely leaving the stage, and delivers a spot-on performance. He handles the role with ease, realistically going from nurturing his co-worker’s career to aggressively seeking his own victory and the plummet of his hope, without venturing into the unwanted realm of over-the-top.
Voeks shines like a local invocation of Pam Grier, seeping with vulnerability and naivete, all the while having her eyes set on her own vicious endgame. She earns your sympathy, then shows you why your tears are wasted.
Thomas has a habit of stealing the show. His skillful use of nuance and presence leaves little doubt that Youngstown’s theater community will not be able to contain him for long.
Throughout the show, there were some stumbles with the characteristic wordiness that Mamet is known for, but somehow it enhances the realism in this drama.
What puts this production above and beyond your regular theater fare is the discussion period that follows the show. With a run time of just under 90 minutes, facilitators are given a chance to join the cast after the bows to engage in an open discussion of the play’s themes and the questions that arise.
This bold endeavor has the ability to change not just the members of the audience, but our community as a whole.
“Race” runs today, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m., and next Sunday at 2:30 p.m. at the Youngstown Playhouse Griffith/Adler Theater. For reservations, call 330-788-8739.