Christopher Swan, Damron Russel Armstrong, Nakeisha Daniel and Sean McGuirk portray Jack Lawson, Henry Brown, Susan and Charles Strickland. Credit: Mark Turek
By Frank O'Donnell, WPRO Arts and Entertainment Contributor
In the world of jurisprudence, everyone’s guilty. There are no facts in a trial. There are two fictions. So says attorney Jack Lawson in David Mamet’s “Race,” now on stage at the Ocean State Theatre Company.
A rich white man, Charles Strickland (Sean McGuirk), is accused of raping a black woman. He’s the “victim of false allegations” and turns to a small firm with three lawyers – one white, two black – to defend him. Discussions about the case stir up some deep-seated racial issues for the lawyers, provoking confrontations between them.
There is no searching for truth here. “Neither side wants the truth,” says Lawson (Christopher Swan). “Each wants to prevail.” And that is the truth of “Race.”
Mamet’s drama is fast-paced, filled with twists and turns. The language is gritty, coarse at times, which serves to make the whole thing real. The story is engrossing, and will keep you guessing at every point.
As director Amiee Turner promised in the show’s introduction, “Race” gives you “much to think about.” And a lot to like, too, starting with the set by Kimberly V. Powers, a glass and brick structure reminiscent of the thousands of offices built out of renovated mill buildings so familiar to New Englanders.
The lawyers are familiar too. Nakeisha Daniel’s Susan seems caught in the middle of it all – a black woman torn between defending a white man because it’s what defense lawyers must do and being incensed at the crime committed against another black woman. Damron Russel Armstrong’s Henry Brown is the black lawyer who completely understands that race permeates everything. Swan’s Lawson is the white crusader who claims a blind eye to race but harbors deep-seated issues.
Powerful writing and powerful acting, in a very familiar setting. That’s “Race.”
Ocean State Theatre Company presents “Race” through April 14 in its new space on Jefferson Boulevard in Warwick. Visit www.oceanstatetheatre.org for tickets and information, or call 401.921.1777.