Race Review: Goodman Theatre's Chicago Premiere of David Mamet's "Race" Stirs Up a Heady Mix.

Race Review: Goodman Theatre's Chicago Premiere of David Mamet's "Race" Stirs Up a Heady Mix.
The red sequin dress becomes the defense in the racially-charged Race at Chicago's Goodman Theatre.

Chicago, Friday, January 27, 2012. At a time and place in our history, when many Americans believe that we have conquered the racial divide by putting a black man in the White House and not using the N word in public, along comes Race to question these assumptions and shake things up.  Pulitzer Prize-winning and Chicago native playwright David Mamet is just the man for the job with his no holds barred, politically incorrect dialogue that gets to the sub-text of what lies beneath our p.c. surface.

In the Goodman Theatre’s Chicago premiere of Race, the Mamet philosophy is front and center.  To know where Mamet is coming from this quote from the Village Voice says it all:  “I do not think that people are basically good at heart. That view of human nature has both prompted and informed my writing for the last 40 years. I think that people, in circumstances of stress, can behave like swine; this, indeed, is not only a fit subject, but the only subject, of drama.”

Race begins as a crime mystery, when two high-profile lawyers, Henry (Geoffrey Owens) who is black, and Jack (Marc Grapey) who is white are called to defend a wealthy white client Charles (Patrick Clear) who is charged with the rape of an African American woman. The client admits that he was intimate with his accuser but claims it wasn’t rape, insisting that the sex was consensual and that he and the woman were in love.

The explosive mixture of legal maneuverings, race, sex, media and class are all at work in Chuck Smith’s astute production. Early on black attorney Henry (Geoffrey Owens) asks his potential white client  “Do you want me to tell you about black folks?”  From there he goes on to list some truths, half-truths, and misconceptions that set the stage for the smart, edgy dialogue to follow.  Later, Jack says, answering a question from Susan.“I think all people are stupid,”  “I don’t think blacks are exempt”–continuing the emotional football that is passed throughout the play.

Also at bay here is the shared human need to confess and atone. The client feels the need to take his story to the press while the lawyers explain why that this is a bad idea. The plot revolves around the all important red-sequined dress (pictured on the playbill and above) that the accuser says the accused ripped off of her during the alleged attack.

The finely-tuned four-member cast play well off of each other. Black attorney Henry, in a masterful portrayal by Geoffrey Owens (who you may remember from “The Cosby Show”), is the perfect go-between, between the guilt-ridden white attorney Jack (Marc Grapey) and his young, attractive hiree, Susan, the Ivy-League educated black attorney played by Tamberla Perry who knows how to play on Jack’s guilt.   The client, Charles, played by well-known and respected Chicago actor Patrick Clear, a veteran of more than a dozen Goodman productions, rounds out the well-chosen foursome.

Race will leave you thinking, questioning and re-examining your perceptions about “race”.

Tickets and Show Information.

Race runs now through February 19, 2012 in the Goodman’s Albert Theatre. Tickets ($25 – $89) can be purchased at GoodmanTheatre.org, by phone at 312.443.3800 or at the box office (170 North Dearborn).  Running time is 1 hour and 50 minutes.

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