Review – Justice, slippery as race

2012-07-03 09:31

Jewish American Pulitzer Prize winning playwright David Mamet’s 2009 play Race is a poser – one that poses a series of rapid-fire scenarios as a trio of lawyers bat about whether to take on a “hot potato” case.

Each scenario is coloured by the experience of each of the players in this elaborate game that covers a multitude of issues – chief among them race.

But it runs far deeper than just skin deep prejudice – it tackles the multi-tentacled issue with shades of gender, power and a host of other less in your face – but no less important – socioeconomic factors.

This production of Mamet’s play at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown is directed by Clare Mortimer, a stalwart of the theatre scene, who has been at the helm of this version since its genesis at Durban’s Playhouse.

And it features an impressive cast of heavy-hitters – Michael Richard, Sello Maake Ka-Ncube, Graham Hopkins and Nondumiso Tembe.

All give performances worthy of their towering resumes, though Maake Ka-Ncube is sometimes difficult to understand as his character Hank has a Southern drawl, an accent hard on the South African ear, made more so by the cavernous Graham College venue.

There were a few line stumbles along the way – down to opening performance nerves, no doubt.

Tembe is astonishingly good, she more than holds her own with this trio of veterans and I hope to see her often on stage again.

Hank and Jack (Richard) are partners in law – one is black, the other white. The case that causes discord in the office is that of a rich, high profile white man (Hopkins) accused of raping a black woman.

The fourth person on the stage is Susan (Tembe), Hank and Jack’s young Ivy League educated legal protege.

The alleged victim in the case changes – depending on which legal scenario is being played out to its “just” conclusion.

However, as a young black woman Susan offers a physical representation, at the very least, of the woman about whom the lawyers argue, but who is never more than a problem to be dealt with.

The issue of justice is perhaps as central as the issue that gives the play its name. Justice, it seems, is as slippery as race, as malleable to the will of the storyteller.

Perhaps the most illuminating aspect of Race is not the colour issue, but the hues of grey that pass for justice, the exploration of how the way something is presented, how good the guy who tells the story, how sympathetic the victim – or conversely how odious the perpetrator – determines how people perceive it.

Similarly, Mamet makes the point that how we interact with the world is directly linked to our experience as well as to our prejudices and our perceptions.

Often funny, ultimately sobering, Race is shocking not because it deals with an issue all of us are aware of every day, but because it points out that often we interact with issues without always fully understanding how we are complicit in the outcomes.

» Race is at Graham College today at 2pm and 8pm, and tomorrow at noon and 4pm.

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