David Mamet. Yes. He tackles questions of race head on. He knocks you out. No nonsense. He slugs with jabs of ironic wit. Roaring laughs. He gets inside your brain, making you ponder, wonder, question. Pay attention, damn it. You don’t want to miss anything. And you very well might get it all at Omaha Community Playhouse because director Amy Lane and her dynamic cast nail to the wall the entire essence of Race.
This exercise in black and white deals not just with skin color but the questionable absolutes of truth and justice. It vibrates with conceptions and pre-conceptions.
Cut to story. Wealthy white guy Charles Strickland has been accused of raping a black woman. She made the claim. He seeks court-room protection from lawyers Jack Lawson (white) and Henry Brown (black) who have new assistance from young Susan (black. No last name). She’s just joined the practice. This launches 90 or so intermission-sliced minutes into ticking, explosive questions about guilt, innocence, shame, conscience, truth, justice, sexism, paranoia, press sensationalism and, of course, various strains of racial bias. You might think that this is some kind of heavy load to bear. But no, the words, the thoughts, the ideas keep on zipping by. Grab them on this darkly shadowed merry-go-round.
Timing, pacing, using every inch of the space and digging deep into the meaning of the words, director Amy Lane gets it all right. So does Doug Blackburn whose Jack crackles with intelligence and sardonic precision. Andre McGraw as Henry has sturdy humor and unrelenting strength. Brennan Thomas’s take on Strickland stays totally real, suggesting innocence even while armored by his assured privileged class membership. Susan is played by Jonnique Powers. She does well by seeming overshadowed and subservient in this male-dominated territory. But she has attitude inside that frame.
As usual, Mamet’s language is peppered with expletives. They and all the other words serve an intense purpose: to get us to ponder our own roles in a society where our own perceptions of race continue to color our behavior.
Don’t expect easy resolution. You may be provoked to grip the edge of your seat but, as a witness, or a man or woman in some kind of jury, only after you’ve had time to breathe outside that office are you likely come up with some kind of conclusion about what really happened there. Plus what really happened in the unseen room where the rape may have taken place. But then maybe not. Think it over, pal.
Race continues through June 8 at Howard Drew Theatre, Omaha Community Playhouse,6915 Cass St. Thurs-Sat: 7:30 p.m. Sun: 2 p.m. Tickets: $21-$35.www.OmahaPlayhouse.org