Race, by David Mamet, Mitch and Murray Productions, Studio 16 in Vancouver. Runs til December 1st.
On my recent trip to Vancouver, I took one evening away from family celebrations to see a play. The one I chose was the Mitch and Murray production of David Mamet’s 2009 play Race, directed by David Mackay. The actors are Kwesi Ameyaw, Craig Erickson, Aaron Craven, and Marsha Regis. An interesting change for me, coming from reading theatre programs in Edmonton, was that all these actors have resumés full of Vancouver-filmed-television credits (Supernatural, Fringe, the Da Vinci and Stargate series, etc).
Race is set in the conference room of a law office, in a city in the USA. I don’t think the city is specified, but I imagined Chicago and that worked. The new client, a rich 40ish white man, has been charged with sexually assaulting a younger black woman. The lawyers are a white man and a black man, partners in the law firm, and their younger associate (or possibly articling student), a black woman.
The story was more about the interactions among the lawyers than about the case or the accused, or at least the interesting parts were. And of course it wasn’t just about race and the American conversations about race, it was about race and gender and power and the interplay among them. I could easily see how it was part of the same oeuvre as Oleanna. It’s also very much about the factors other than objective facts which are relevant in a legal case.
I didn’t feel like anything got resolved in the story, but I don’t think I was supposed to. The director’s notes in the program acknowledge his discomfort as a privileged white Canadian directing a play by a conservative white American about race relations. But I would have liked to also see some acknowledgement that as men they might be finding it equally difficult to be telling a story about a woman’s rape. The one female character on stage, Susan, was the younger black lawyer working for the two male partners in the firm. Although the rape victim was not a character on stage in the play, watching the other characters interact with Susan showed important glimpses into their treatment of gender, race, and power differentials. Given this awareness, I found myself conscious of and uncomfortable with the way Susan was dressed. Her employers are wearing comfortable-looking men’s business clothes, one with a buttoned vest and the other with a suit jacket on. But she is wearing a very snug collared blouse and skirt, bare legs, and heels, which draw attention to her body shape. I can’t say that any of that would be inappropriate for a young woman lawyer on a day she’s not going to court – all I know about women lawyers in the USA is from The Good Wife and Damages – but it sure shows that women’s choices get subjected to a different kind of scrutiny than men do.
I don’t think I would like David Mamet as a person, or most of his characters whom I’ve seen in plays and movies. But I really enjoy the dialogue in his work. It’s so snappy and snarky and clever and at the same time the disjointed interrupted repetitions sound credible.
The play ran about 80 minutes. It had three acts or scenes, marked by sudden complete darkening of the stage. I don’t think there was any music. The set was an appealing simple representation of a conference room in a small unpretentious law firm, with files, a water service, yellow pads and pencils set out on a glass table, hanging panels creating the sense of walls, and one piece of art hanging on the wall which kept distracting me into trying to figure out how it was illuminated.
The theatre, Studio 16, is in a Francophone community centre just south of Granville Island on the way to Kitsilano. It had about 90 seats on low risers along two sides of the performance space.
I’m left feeling like the play didn’t really tell me things I hadn’t known before; it just made me think about them. And it didn’t actually make me as uncomfortable as it could have. I’m not sure whether that’s good or bad, because as an evening’s entertainment I don’t have complaints.