Playwright David Mamet has tackled many different work environments in his pieces, from sales (Glengarry Glen Ross) to academia (Oleanna) to the movie business (Speed- the-Plow). In his latest, Race, now onstage at Florida Studio Theatre, the setting is a legal office. And in typical Mamet fashion, while the office itself (designed by April Soroko) is handsome, what goes on inside isn’t pretty.
The law firm’s two lead attorneys, one black (Kevyn Morrow), one white (Jeffrey Plunkett) are trying to decide whether or not to assume the defense of a wealthy, older white man (Ronald Siebert) accused of raping a young black women. It’s a messy case, and one that could be hard to win—which is, of course, more central to their argument about taking it than any question of innocence or guilt.
Guilt, in fact, and shame are two issues Mamet’s characters here speak a lot about. But it’s not just the client’s guilt or shame; it’s the guilt or shame of white people who can’t get past those feelings when it comes to their history with African-Americans. Getting inside another person’s skin is always impossible, but despite decades of progress in civil rights, it’s especially so when it comes to whites understanding blacks and vice versa. And matters are further complicated by the firm’s recent hire (Toccarra Cash), another young black woman who may or may not be using her race and gender to get what and where she wants.
In the familiar staccato Mamet dialogue, the facts of the case—and the matter of those race relations—are debated at high intensity (with lots of expected very strong language). Director Richard Hopkins relates well to Mamet’s style and subject matter, and keeps his cast on their toes through the show, which is never less than interesting and in Act II is highly charged indeed.
Cash and Morrow, both newcomers to FST, make strong debuts; it’s especially intriguing to watch as Cash’s character becomes one thing in our eyes and then another. Siebert keeps his performance more low-key, as befits a man of his standing and background. Plunkett, whose work I’ve admired before at FST, is a bit problematic here; while his emotions are convincing, at times his delivery is odd.
But Race is worth seeing, and worth discussing afterward. It continues through March 19; call 366-9000 or go to floridastudiotheatre.org.