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Review: Stage Company's 'Race' is worthy, weighty gem

By Autumn D. F. Hopkins

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Charleston Stage Company's presentation of David Mamet's "Race" is no light dose of theater. 

Set in the inner office of the fictitious law firm Lawson and Brown, the cast consists of only four actors -- partners Jack (Tim Mace) and Henry (Russell Hicks), junior attorney Susan (Balen Abdulqadir) and client Charles (Norman Clerc). 

The four proceed to churn through two hours of intense and weighty dialogue. The plot orbits around Charles' alleged rape of an unnamed black woman, his debatable guilt or innocence and the possible strategies of his defense. 

As the three attorneys move through the decision to take on Charles as a client and possible tactics to employ in his defense, they find themselves swimming in their own preconceptions of race, gender shame, guilt and sex. 

The weight of the Mamet play is intense, forcing the audience to bear down into their own inner thought processes. The dialogue defines and then disassembles even the basic concept of what it means to belong to a group and how the groups people belong to leave them predestined to accept or deny facts.

Like I said, this is no light theatrical fare.

However, this is a near perfect fit for the Charleston Stage Company, a small troupe with a talented pool of actors.  With a play like "Race" success depends completely on the chemistry, delivery and skill of the actors, and this cast delivers.

Veterans of the stage, Mace, Hicks and Clerc meld well with newcomer Abdulqadir.  The drama that unfolds is both believable and intriguing. 

Like most of Mamet's work, "Race" at times bogs down in its own introspection. This is no fault of the actors, but sometimes the material is like pulling a loose thread on a sweater. Once it begins to unravel one loses sight of the initial thread and instead gets lost in the mess left behind. 

Overall, this is a worthy gem if you are looking for something outside the spectrum of musicals and comedies; not overly long but substantial enough to provoke some intense thought and conversation. 

"Race" shows at the WVSU Capitol Center Theater May 24, 25, 30, 31 and June 1 so there are lots of chances to see it. The subject matter is adult and the language is intense. It should also be noted that there is graphic and repeat discussion of assault, so anyone triggered by a repeated and prolonged discussion of rape should probably skip it.


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