Wednesday, July 11, 2012

GableStage: RACE (4 reviews)

GableStage opened its production of David Mamet's RACE on July 7, 2012.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright tackles the biggest four-letter word of all... RACE! Two lawyers, one black one white, find themselves defending a wealthy white executive against the charge of raping a young black woman. The play poses blunt questions with provocative language that will leave everyone talking long after the lights go down.
Joseph Adler directed a cast that featured Joe Kimble, Ethan Henry, Gregg Weiner, and Jade Wheeler.

Bill Hirschman reviewed for Florida Theater On Stage:

Director Joe Adler and his quartet of actors deftly serve an overflowing plate of ideas to chew over. Mamet, indulging his increasingly conservative bent, doesn’t just tease the constipation that political correctness has imposed on social relations but savagely rips it apart. It’s not very palatable theology for us bleeding heart liberals but it’s hard to argue with his concern that the pendulum has swung way past  rational thought.

The 2009 Broadway edition was faster-paced and more brittle — something that might have helped the first quarter of the GableStage evening. But once the legal team is on board with the case, when the stakes are higher, the tension more pronounced, Adler’s skill at pacing pays off. On Broadway, the arguments flew so fast that the effect was a dazzling torrent of words, but it was impossible to track what was being said or recall specifics later for post-show discussion. Adler’s nimble but calibrated pacing allows the audience to actually follow the meat of Mamet’s arguments and has them walking out thinking about what was being said.

All four actors are in fine form, especially Weiner and Henry. This is Weiner’s fourth role for GableStage in a row, but it’s perhaps the one that most fits him most comfortably (although his corrupt cop in A Steady Rain was masterful). He inhabits the skin of a cynic who thinks he has seen it all...
Henry, who presented us with a completely differently animal as the drug counselor this year in The Motherf—er With The Hat, is as smooth and mercilessly clear-eyed as the other character was flawed... after he warmed up opening night, he slid smoothly into the role and he wielded the verbiage like a cancer surgeon ruthlessly slashing through disingenuous protestations of political correctness with a well-honed meat cleaver.
The shamefully underemployed Kimble, whose rubber-faced features gets him cast in comedic roles, makes a wonderfully woebegone magnate, at sea in an environment he has absolutely no experience with or even comprehension of.
Wheeler, a Washington, DC, actress, is convincing as the eager, sharp  apprentice...
To those bemoaning a lack of substantial fare during the summer, Race is what you’re looking for.
Mia Leonin reviewed for The Miami Herald:
...just as David Mamet’s latest play, Race, hits South Florida stages , local headlines chronicle the legacy of Rodney King, as well as the ongoing case of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed African-American teen who was shot by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer.

Race is always relevant. Playwright David Mamet knows this... and so does Joe Adler, producing director of GableStage... Adler directs this thought-provoking and often hilarious drama with a keen ear for its deft dialogue and searing innuendo.
...Susan, a young African-American lawyer who has just joined the firm, challenges her colleagues’ assumptions about race and justice. A newcomer to the Florida theater scene, Jade Wheeler gives a compelling portrayal of Susan, who is as self-possessed as she is calculating...

Mamet’s plays are driven by cynicism, vitriol, and dark humor, so it’s no surprise that Race presents life’s hard truths in the form of rants, quips, and razor sharp comebacks. Weiner and Henry deliver their lines superbly and all of the actors display spot on timing.
GableStage has hit on a trifecta of phenomenal writing, steely direction, and powerful acting. Race is a play for anyone who finds the issue as complex as it is urgent.
Roger Martin reviewed for miamiartzine:

There's a fascinating tale just opened at Joe Adler's GableStage; a labrynth of prejudice, lies and cynicism that entertains, and yes, even enlightens, for 85 edge of the seat minutes.
Mamet writes with wit and an eye-opening handle on “Justice” and director Joe Adler and his terrific cast pick up every nuance, making a talky play (and that's not a bad thing) a shining one act that may not make you a better person but will surely make you pause before you speak.
Henry, Kimble and Wheeler handle their roles well, they're always believable, always ratcheting the tension, but, damn, it's just plain hard to stand out on stage when you're sharing it with Gregg Weiner. He plays senior partner Jack Lawson, the meat role. Sure he has the most stage time, but even if he were playing the mail clerk you'd want to hang on his every little word. His veteran lawyer, cynical, confident, nothing can surprise me, but I do have a soft spot, is a thing of theatre beauty. I'll admit it, I'm a fan. 
Chris Joseph wrote for the Miami New Times:
In a state that's been riveted for four months by the Trayvon Martin shooting, it goes without saying: Race is still a huge part of the American justice system. Just ask George Zimmerman, the Hispanic neighborhood watchman who shot and killed the unarmed black Miami Gardens teenager in Central Florida and has been collecting huge donations off the racially charged case ever since.

What better time and place, then, to stage a production of David Mamet's Race, which debuted at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre on Broadway in 2009 and opened last weekend for a four-week run at GableStage?
Race delivers much of what's expected from the author of classic plays such as Glengarry Glen Ross, Oleanna, and Speed-the-Plow and films like The Verdict and Wag the Dog. The language is caustic, sharp, and quick. Unfortunately, the performances and language are wasted by an ultimately vacant attempt to tackle an important issue... The play falls short because it disguises the heart of the topic with humor, Mamet-speak, and awkward conversations.
Weiner and Henry, at least, are perfectly in tune with each other. Both actors display their characters' attitudes with cold logic in the face of a convoluted problem. Henry withholds nothing as Brown. He's a man who hasn't forgotten that he's black and that Strickland represents the worst in racist white privileged wealth...
Strickland is hateful because Kimble plays him with great honesty. Joseph Adler's direction is also sound, especially his penchant for having his actors use the entire stage. The set is another masterful construction by GableStage set designer Lyle Baskin, who designed the law office with thorough detail...
Despite the great performances, nothing new is revealed in Race, outside of a reminder that the central conflict is a complicated issue in America and that society has a way to go before we can all hold hands and sing "Kumbaya" together.

Still, Mamet is a meticulous researcher (the play has plenty of legit-sounding legalese), and his characters are multilayered and complex. Those aspects, along with the terrific performances, keep Race from collapsing under its own weight.
RACE plays at GableStage through August 5, 2012.

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