Tough Subject Matter Handled Beautifully at PTC

by Walter Bender

The latest production at the Philadelphia Theatre Company, RACE by David Mamet, is one that many theaters will shy away from. The storyline is very controversial, as are the ideas expressed by the characters throughout the production. Still, the skill of the playwright makes this piece engrossing.

(from left to right): John Preston, Jordan Lage, Nicole Lewis and Ray Anthony Thomas in Philadelphia Theatre Company’s production of David Mamet’s RACE, now running through February 13 at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre. (Photo credit: Mark Garvin)

The plot is very simple…two lawyers (one white, one black) are offered the chance to defend a wealthy executive accused of raping a young black woman. The lawyers are joined in their discussions of the case by a young black female (hired by the white lawyer contrary to the black lawyer’s recommendation) who is a new legal assistant for the firm. The discussions are frank (bordering on uncomfortable) and get more intense as the play progresses. The Philadelphia Theatre Company is the first theatre to produce this show since its Broadway run, and they do a fabulous job.

The cast is first-rate. Jack (Jordan Lage) and Henry (Ray Anthony Thomas, reprising the role he played on Broadway) are the lawyers who are approached by Charles (John Preston) to defend him against the rape allegations. Susan (Nicole Lewis) is the legal assistant whose opinions are asked for by Jack throughout the show. Mr. Lage and Mr. Thomas both portray their characters as very skilled and intelligent arbiters, looking behind the words in every moment. Their ability to handle the subject matter frankly and with a certain sensitivity was very impressive. Ms. Lewis is the young and inexperienced assistant who gets increasingly bold with her opinions as the evening progresses. Her final line (the show’s closing) produced an audible gasp from the audience…well done, Ms. Lewis! Mr. Preston plays his character as a very empowered and dislikable person, and does it very well. It made the revelations that came out throughout the production very easy to believe. The director of the production (Scott Zigler) is a veteran director of Mamet’s material, and shows a great familiarity with the playwright, keeping the action moving well with no chance for the attention of the audience to wander.

I missed the opportunity to see RACE on Broadway. The production by PTC more than made up for that missed opportunity. The evening ended much too quickly, and even though some of the ideas expressed by the actors make you a bit uncomfortable, you know that what is being said onstage is real, raw, and very true. Congratulations to the Philadelphia Theatre Company for an amazing theatrical experience. Caution to the more fragile…the language is very graphic, the subject matter very difficult to think about at times. But for those who are not easily swayed by such material, this is a must-see production.

by David Mamet
Directed by Scott Zigler
January 21 – February 20, 2011 (extended!)
Philadelphia Theatre Company
480 S. Broad Street
Philadelphia PA 19146
Box Office: 215.985.0420

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