“Race” – iTheatre Collaborative

This review aired on KBAQ November 7, 2011


iTheatre Collaborative, Kax Stage, Herberger Theater Center
Phoenix, AZ

David Mamet’s “Race” is a powerful statement on racial intolerance, bigotry, ridiculous stereotypes, and biases.  According to Mamet, “Race is the most incendiary topic in this country.”  An intensely alive iTheatre Collaborative production, staged in conjunction with ASU West, marks the play’s impressive local premiere.

I saw “Race” on Broadway in the author’s perfect original staging with an impressive cast.  I wondered if iTheatre Collaborative could muster the fine acting mandated and secure the strong directorial touch necessary to stage an effective version.  The sharp production answers that baseless concern.  Three stunningly believable acting performances take charge of the play and Charles St. Clair’s dynamic direction instills the necessary tension into the vivid and explosive racial discussions.

The script twists and turns as three lawyers – one white, and two black – defend a white guy charged with raping a black woman.  One of the lawyers, a brilliant young black woman, initially observes the older lawyers embroiled in a discussion of the accused man’s guilt or innocence.

As the three then fight, discuss, debate, and sort out investigative facts, racial biases emerge even among these lawyers who understand and respect the importance of acceptance and equality.  How much of the acceptance is obligatory and how much comes from a real understanding of the issues is at the play’s heart.

The play ends without resolving the issues so you’ll leave discussing, thinking, and wondering just how open minded and fair we all are.  It’s quite a discussion of critical ideas we confront daily.

The fine production does justice to this challenging play.  Start with the commandingly dominate portrayals of Christopher Haines as white lawyer Jack Lawson, and Mike Traylor as black lawyer Henry Brown.  These intellectually alive guys were on the cutting edge as they forged a successful partnership but now both are set in their ways and thinking even though they recognize their mindless biases.

Also magnificent is Nicole Belit as Susan, the newest lawyer, trying to fit into the other guys established relationship.  She’s attractive, observes thoughtfully initially, and then explodes with rage at the two partners, their biases, and their opinionated feelings.  Why did they hire her?   Was she given the opportunity because she is black?  The answers are revealing.  Only Walt Pedano’s Charles Strickland, the accused, isn’t up to the others acting acumen as he fails to make this guy stand out.  A wonderful set conveys the well-to-do practice’s office perfectly.

“Race” is quite a play but it’s even more impressive in the richly acted and artfully staged iTheatre Collaborative production that continues through November 19.  For tickets, call the iTheatre Collaborative box office at 602-347-1071 or order tickets online at www.itheatreaz.org.

Grade: A


2 Responses to ““Race” – iTheatre Collaborative”

  1. donna said:

    Nov 10, 11 at 13:14

    Hi Chris – last Sunday, i went to “what about luv?” a beguiling and entertaining performance. i thought was well played. you may want to check out AZ Jewish Theatre one more time. i know Janet values your input and, as is the case for many threatres this year, a word from you may help. Also look forward to seeing you at opera again this year. many regards/donna h.

  2. Dr shorb said:

    Nov 10, 11 at 17:32

    Will see Fri. Nice review