Race - Canadian Stage at Bluma Appel Theatre in the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts - Toronto, ON - **1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Written by David Mamet, Directed by Daniel Brooks
Runs until May 5th 2013
The Call - Playwrights Horizons' Peter Jay Sharp Theatre - Off-Broadway - New York City, NY - **1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Written by Tanya Barfield, Directed by Leigh Silverman
Runs until May 19th 2013. Review based on early preview.
It may be 2013 but the colour of your skin still factors into the life you can and will lead in America. While daily life may not have as many overt incidences of racism or stereotyping as America's sordid past (the Civil War, the Scottsboro Boys, Malcollm X), countless new news stories (like the tragic death of Trayvon Martin) and political issues (like the absurdity in the importance in seeing Obama's birth certificate) keep the issues of being Black in America as a constant simmering issue.
Two recent new dramas attempt to discuss the issues of race in modern America, with Mamet dramatizing things in his usual hot-button scandal laced ways, while Tanya Barfield gently brings the subtle issues of race in a drama about a white yuppie couple who decide to adopt a baby from Africa after their Black lesbian friends return from a trip to Africa.
There are interesting points in David Mamet's Race, now playing at Canadian Stage, with some pointed statements that make for typical juicy quotable Mamet fare but the plot lacks enough bite to truly be controversial or incendiary. The story revolves around a pompous and rich White man Charles Strickland who is accused of raping a Black woman. Strickland hires a team of lawyers that include White laywer Jack Lawson, a Black lawyer Henry Brown, and a younger Black female lawyer, one who seems a match to the supposed victim. The set up, while not unlike a typical episode plotline on The Good Wife, Boston Legal, or The Practice, still has many interesting facets to explore, with issues of White privilege versus the expectations and struggles Blacks must overcome to succeed in America. Unfortunately, the more interesting points are rolled into a typical courtroom case as the lawyers discuss the legal tactics and points that may or may not help their own careers.
Still, I'm curious to hear what others have to say about Mamet's Race debate. I only wish the play about being Black and White in America had more colour to it.
Add in an so-nice-he's-odd African neighbour, who insists that Annie and Peter go through with the adoption while asking them to bring shipments of donations to Africa at the same time, and The Call sort of falls off the rails when it tries to stuff too many possible controversies without really delving in fully into any one in particular. Major decisions seem glossed over and simply become assumed plot points, while the African neighbour Alemu (Russell G. Jones) seems to spout out prophetic Oprah-like wisdom.
The cast tries to inject as much realism into the promising play, with the most compelling and subtle performances from Eisa Davis, Crystal A. Dickinson and Kelly AuCoin, but the attempt to tie a shocking past to the story rings false and unnecessary for a story already so filled with so many complications and issues.
I appreciated the attempts at thought provoking plays potentially with flaming controversy with the still-hot button issue of race in contemporary America. While there are interesting points and great potential in set ups for Race and The Call, both plays, despite some great performances, aren't quite as scathing as the premise sets up for. Some plot points don't quite add up, and it takes away from the possible truth the plays reaches for. Still, they are the types of plays that cry out to be discussed afterwards and I'm incredibly curious to hear what others have to say about them, and wonder if the colour of my own skin (and that I am neither Black nor White) may have anything to do with my reactions to the play.
Photos of Race by David Hou
Photo of The Call by Jeremy Daniel
Vance at http://tapeworthy.blogspot.com