Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Mamet tackles America’s most controversial topic in Race, a provocative new tale of sex, guilt and bold accusations. It receives its Springfield-area premiere by Springfield Contemporary Theatre at SCT Center Stage in Wilhoit Plaza July 26-August 11. We were joined on “Arts News” by the production’s director, L.J. Summers, and two of the actors, Tom Baker and Darryl Clark.
Before we went any further, L.J. Summers explained why there will NOT be any post-curtain Talkback discussions during the run of this show. Short answer: David Mamet himself forbids it. Said Summers, “Mamet insists that his plays speak for themselves. And according to reports, he wants audience members to drive home and talk about the plays themselves. He doesn’t want to hear the production group tell them ‘what they meant by them’!” A not invalid opinion, we agreed. Still, in order to promote SCT’s production, we most certainly talked about the plot, the characters, and the implications.
Mamet wrote “Race” about a decade ago, and he set it in Chicago at a law firm, headed by two partners, one white, one black. They recently hired a new legal assistant, a young African-American woman. “Into their office one day comes, unannounced and unexpected, a very rich, influential… (Summers chuckled) …arrogant businessman from Chicago who has been accused of an assault on a black woman, in a hotel. And he wants their assistance.
“So,” continued Summers, “the problem of the play is, ‘Well… do we take this case?’”
Darryl Clark plays one of the firm’s partners, Henry Brown. He said he sees Henry as “a very principled, very uptight, individual. He has gotten everything he has gotten through hard work and continued application of learning. He’s also someone who looks down on people who give in to their ‘fleshly’ pursuits. He is critical of that at various times in the play—contemptuous, even. And,” Clark added with a laugh, “he is so NOT like me!” He said playing Henry Brown “has been the ultimate challenge… and if he is loved by at least one person over the next eleven performances, then it will be the ultimate reward to have done it!”
Tom Baker plays the other law partner, Jack Lawson, who he described as “kind of the resident know-it-all—knows way too much for his own good.” I suggested Henry Brown’s character is a bit like that. Baker agreed, but noted that “Henry is a lot more grounded than Jack is. Jack is a little bit up in the clouds sometimes. He likes to pontificate a lot about how to win the case. He’s kind of up for the challenge. I think Henry’s character has some reservations—rightly so. This a very complex show, very dense as far as the legal terminology”—which Darryl Clark described as “a bear!” “But it is a lot of fun,” said Baker. “And it goes a mile a minute, it really does.”
SCT’s publicity blurb for “Race” notes that “the opinions that boil beneath explode to the surface. When David Mamet turns the spotlight on what we think but can’t say, dangerous truths are revealed, and no punches are pulled.” Among other things, that means strong language and adult content. “It’s David Mamet… there’s going to be strong language!” said director L.J. Summers.
Mamet may not allow theater companies to host post-performance talkback sessions, but Summers expects “Race” to generate plenty of private discussion by audience members. “We anticipate, as with many Mamet plays, because of the sexual politics, because of the racial politics, because of the conventions that are attacked, that probably when husbands and wives or dates or even friends drive home, they may well have seen different plays! ‘Is that what that meant? I didn’t hear it that way!’ Or, ‘What are you talking about?! Were we in the same auditorium?’ That’s been true of many of (Mamet’s) plays, and we expect that will probably happen. The conventions? Well, the media is attacked. The law is attacked. Sexual politics, racial politics. Partnerships. The #metoo movement! Although it’s happened since the play was written, it’s right in the middle of this. So what do we want audiences to take away from it? We want them to go home and talk about it.”
Along with Tom Baker and Darryl Clark, the “Race” cast includes Jonova Lavon and Bryant Turnage. It opens Friday July 26, and then will run Thursday thru Saturday at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2:00pm through August 11. The two Thursday performances August 1st and 8th are “Pay What You Can” nights; otherwise admission is $27 adults, $24 students and seniors 55+; opening weekend tickets July 26-28 are $22. For information call 831-8001 or visit www.springfieldcontemporarytheatre.org.