RACE is launched!

We’ve begun previews for RACE by David Mamet. We’ve had two preview audiences–more young people, more diversity, more explosive laughter–than we seem to have ever had. Will the young and diverse audiences continue as we move out of Pay What You Can previews? We’re now moving in to discount previews for the rest of the weekend. This show needs to stay accessible. That’s why we’ll be promoting our $20 RUSH tix for those who want to wait till the last minute and buy at the box office. We’ve also got our $15 price for 35-and-under (though quantity is limited — still there’s quantity enough). The real point is here: Mamet remains exciting. And in this case, Mamet is speaking credibly to African-American audiences. Mamet is unguarded, bold, full of thoughtful swagger, like he’s always been when at its best. But on the charged subject of Race, in a race-aware town like DC, the effect of Mamet’s plot, language, and character are, is totally liberating. There’s a bracing, freeing quality to the discourse — to the pin-drop tension that’s created and punctuated.

Well, I’m carrying on, rather than simply setting the table for others to chime in. Last night, after preview #2, our actors joined students from UDC and UM, UC, and ND and we have a most intimate and revealing exchange. I’m sure we’ll be reading about the most salient aspects of that talk-back. Looking forward to reading what people thought!

set photo by set designer Misha Kachman

set photo by set designer Misha Kachman

44 thoughts on “RACE is launched!

  1. The timing of this play as it related to my life was oddly coincidental. As a pre-law student, I am constantly asked what kind of law I want to study. My answer? No. Clue. But I do know I want to practice law and I definitely see myself doing litigation… So this play was just what I wanted to see.

    I just finished a book called “Defending Jacob” by William Landay. If you are interested in law at all or just enjoy reading a good legal thriller, then I would DEFINITELY recommend reading this book. The main conflict in the book (I’m not giving this away… It says this part on the back cover) is that the main character, Andy Barber, is the district attorney in a small New England town when a middle school boy is brutally murdered. As the homicide investigation begins, it turns out that his own son is the leading suspect. Of course, Andy is removed from the case as the prosecutor and finds himself on the line of defense–something he has never done before. As Jacob’s innocence is put to the test, Andy finds himself desperately defending his son who may indeed be guilty. The book was enthralling and I couldn’t put it down once I started. I obviously won’t give away the ending, but I’ll tell you that it is startling and nothing you expected.

    This dilemma, defending someone you know could very well could be guilty, is shared by the character of Sharon. In her heart, she truly believes Charles is guilty, but now she is in a position where she must work to defend him. I suppose that is the role you sign up for when you become a defense lawyer. As a defense lawyer, sometimes you may be privileged to do the good deed of defending an innocent man and getting him off… But other times, you are being paid to defend a guilty man. How can one live with that on their conscience? This is what Sharon struggled with.

    Well hey, I can officially cross one thing off my list of future law careers: defense lawyer. I would not–could not–ever defend a man I believed was guilty. Throughout the play I really felt myself identifying with Sharon as she struggled with this moral dilemma.

    But back to the play in general. This was a terrific production! Jack was my absolute favorite. He was perfect as the great defense lawyer looking desperately for the loophole that could get him a win. And Charles was great at being the impossible client–every lawyer’s worst nightmare. He couldn’t get his story straight and he was convincingly deceptive. Together, Jack and Henry had a great chemistry on the stage that made the play so believable. The cast tackled the obviously controversial subject of race in a way that the audience could really reflect without being uncomfortable. Amazing!

    • I disagree with you slightly, Sarah, I do think that the audience was uncomfortable, and I think that was significant. Race isn’t something you talk about lightly, and the play’s unreserved discussion was daring and moving. I do agree with you on your other points though. You called Charles “every lawyer’s worst nightmare”, and I think you’re right, that’s exactly what he was. David Mamet made Charles reticent and unreadable, and it was almost impossible to gain any insight into the truth until he let his guard down and revealed some of his feelings. His character was everything that you would stereotype a rich, older white man to be.

    • SV – Interesting take. I think the relation to the legal profession are interesting, and appreciate how in contrast to workplaces and communities as a whole (like I chose to do), you tightened the scope into not only the key area of the play, but one you are particularly and especially interested in – which always makes for interesting insights. I like the relation to the book (which I will be sure to check out – keep book recs coming!), and think your take on defending someone with differing vantage points is essential to our overall understanding of what is going on in this play. It is when we begin to defend what we don’t agree with that we are able to harness the power of introspection and seek out our deepest values — that’s what I appreciated most about the play, and also about your post.

    • Sarah, the moral dilemma you discussed regarding defending a guilty person is something I have explored myself. In high school, I interviewed the former Chief Prosecuting Attorney for the City of Cleveland, who had also been a Cuyahoga County Public Defender, about this very issue. I ask him point blank, “how can defend someone who you believe is guilty.” His answer was profound and has stayed with me to this day. He said he did not defend his client; rather, he defended the Constitution of the United States of America. His goal as a public defender was to make sure his client was treated fairly and the rights and processes outlined in the Constitution were upheld. Maybe, you can put “defense lawyer” back on your list.
      Also, I would caution you to be aware of both sides of the legal battle. How would you feel if you had to prosecute a person you personally felt was, or might be, innocent? Which is worse?

  2. This play featured a lot of great talent without which I don’t think the production could have been successful. Almost without exception, lines were delivered with unabashed confidence. I immediately had the impression that each actor understood their character on a deeper level, and that made the performance very convincing. Initially, I was hesitant to accept the Charles Strickland character, partly because he has so few lines in the beginning of the play and his reserve was slightly overwhelming. As the play progressed, however, I think the audience is given better insight into his character and his past, and he becomes more believable. Overall, I think the actors were fantastic; I can’t imagine how hard they must have worked to move so naturally and to say those lines so precisely, so quickly.
    The transitions between scenes always came as a bit of a shock to me. It wasn’t so much the photo montage that was shocking; I thought the montage contributed greatly to remembering the history behind the play and the emotions the characters were carrying as they made their tough decisions regarding the case. It was the music that was abrasive to me—and I think it was meant to be abrasive. The play was all about what it means to break social conventions and face your prejudices head on. The music was meant to emphasize the discomfort all the characters and the audience were feeling, but, personally, I thought it was overpowering. The music enhanced the fast-paced nature of the play, but I almost would have said that the opposite would have served just as well. I saw the play as a tragedy. It builds on a tragic history of oppression and unacceptable social norms. Personally, I almost feel as though dramatic, sad, slow music would have served just as well. As it was, the trumpet notes practically shook me to the bone.
    I think that the play is meant to make the audience uncomfortable. As a woman, the swearing, overt sexual references, and blatant objectification of women made me squirm. It did make the victim’s story more real for me, however, and I think it is a method to impart the play’s significant message. I think this play is meant to create a meaningful discussion about race relations today, a discussion that many try to avoid because of uneasiness. One of the actors said after the show that David Mamet writes, ‘there is nothing a white person can say to a black person,’ and then goes and says it anyway. I think the play’s ability to talk about these things is very important, and that’s why I thought it was so powerful.

    • I agree that the play was built on tragic foundations, but I do not think that sad and slow music would have served as well. First, it would have broken up the tension too much, especially for a play that covers a very brief period of time. Also, I saw Susan as the character most prevalently carrying all of that history with her, almost as a manifestation of those images. For the most part, she is not depressed about it; she is angry and is not going to stand for the present injustice, and the blaring music reflects that. It fits the theme of facing your prejudices straight on as you said, whereas if it was sadder it would feel more despondent and mournful, as if racism and racist actions were just something that occurred in the past and there is nothing we can do about it. But I do agree with your points on how well the actors knew their characters (especially after hearing what they said at the post-show discussion) and how unsettling the objectification of women was.

  3. As it was for Sarah, Race’s timing into my life is very relevant to what I’m doing at the moment. One of the underlying issues throughout the play is the idea of innocence and guilt and a question of whether or not a guilty man truly deserves a proper defense. The judicial system was set up with the intention that the “truth” should prevail, but I feel that Mamet is entirely correct in his observation that the courts have really become about the “better fiction”. I have been interning at Public Defender Services since last September and it’s a future that I have been considering, though I’m still very much on the fence. At my current internship, with the Public Defender Service for DC, something very similar to the play content was one of my interview questions. In short, how would I be able to deal with defending a rapist that has admitted his or her guilt to me? This is one of the problems that I struggle with in deciding whether or not law is a possible future for me. I found myself contemplating this concept of innocence and guilt, and the role that a defense plays in a court, and I realized that my belief in my answer is firmer than it was three weeks ago: every individual has a right to proper defense. In a guilty case, I would only hope that the prosecutor’s facts would outweigh mine and that justice would be served. Perhaps due to this mindset, I finished the play having noted the assumption of guilt at the end, but with the question of whether or not Charles was actually guilty.
    This moves me into the discussion. I’m very glad that Leo talked about re-reading Mamet’s script and looking at the small details that hint at Charles’ possible innocence! I had wanted to ask, but I thought that I might be over-thinking the case. I particularly enjoyed the discussion because it gave us a look at what the characters thought of the characters that they were playing, and of the situation that they were in. I was particularly impressed by Michael’s admission that he disliked his character, but as a result he was able to think about how to make his character more empathetic. It was also amazing that the characters had never met before the auditions – an essential part of Race’s charm is the chemistry between James and Michael. You can *tell* that they have some sort of bond, not just because of the speech, but by the comfort of their actions in relation to one another: they move around each other naturally. The character development and the slow revelation of secrets and biases was very realistic too, so it was an easy transition to slip into the context of the play. I think an additional part of what made my experience enjoyable was the fact that I had a basic understanding of how criminal defense works, so it was a situation that I could somewhat imagine myself in. During the discussion, James commented on how precise Mamet’s script was, particularly with the overwhelming number and types of punctuation scattered through. I think that Mamet’s precision really constructed a natural overlap of conversation between the characters that contributed to the realism and the chemistry, and that helped me appreciate the situation even more. (Though I can imagine it would have been an absolute nightmare to learn). Time literally flew by with this play, and kept me thinking long after it was done.
    I also wanted to comment on the script in general. There was a brief interval of anger and extensive swearing that made me a little uncomfortable, but for the most part I very much appreciated the sophistication of the speech – it wasn’t “dumbed down” and the audience was able to experience a certain level of complexity that is associated with the job. The discomfort also added to the tension of discussing a subject that was, and still is, a topic of controversy. It also opened my eyes to the complexity of how to deal with the topic – if you’re sensitive about race and you’re careful about what you say, is that actually a form of racism? I feel that Jack’s investigation was racially-motivated, but his logic also made sense in that it assessed a special type of risk that was, in that circumstance, a result of the public sensitivity to the race issue. I have no solution to my questions; only more questions as I continue to think about the topic. There is nothing a white man can say to a black man on the subject of race. What about an Asian? Or a Hispanic? I’d be interested in what Mamet thinks of other minority races in this context.

    • Hi Lilliana, I am with you about the part that how Mamet would think of the issues about other minority in this society.
      I’m from the mainland China, and have lived in the U.S. for 5 years. When I compare and contrast the life and ideology that people possess in both area, I feel there are huge differences in terms of RACE. In China, people would barely face the term RACE in their daily life because all of us are belong to the same RACE. Even though customs are varied as China has varieties of minorities among the country, in the majority parts of China, they are still similar. As a result, I have never experienced being discriminated or prejudiced due to the issue of RACE in China. But absolutely, I have experienced that throughout the past five years when I live in the U.S. Some people have the stereotypes such as , you are Chinese, you are good at math or academic works; you are Chinese, you know how to cook Orange Chicken… I could only tell them that we are good at math because we sacrificed A LOT to exercise, even a large amount of our childhood fun time; I am a Chinese but I never know Orange Chicken because that’s not an authentic Chinese food.
      Although I have not only experienced these stereotypes but also discrimination. But after watching this play, I realized that this is the reality and this is American. It was my choice to live in this country and I have to embrace its goodness as well as these kind of experiences. God Bless Us.

      • Jingru, thank you for sharing your brief experience. It is definitely difficult to discuss and address the topic of racial prejudice and discrimination, especially if it involves personal experience that is upsetting.

        Most things don’t come easy to us. There are times when we don’t quite understand each other; there are times when we seem to lose our essence of embracing cultural differences in this country. But we have progressed a lot through the years, and I believe it is only going to get better. Keep believing, because there will be challenges that lie ahead of us, and I trust that, at that very moment, we will rally together and fight for a common cause as one people.

  4. I was very impressed by the production of Mamet’s “Race” that I saw at Theatre J last night. Race is always a complex topic to tackle and to present in drama, and I thought that the production did a really good job of presenting race as what it is, or rather as how it operates in society; as a function of our perceptions, feelings, history and of our individuality. Ari Roth’s piece on the inside cover of the show’s program quoted Mamet as saying that theatre centers around conflict, and around the presentation of conflict. In my opinion, Mamet’s play presented the points at which race and conflict intersect, relative to aspects of human character and human interaction. A realistic set, some dialogue about sex and sequins, and talk of money and reputation at stake in a law firm were all the props needed to re-create the all too familiar situation in which Americans find themselves, of being the only black woman, or white man, or black man in the hotel room or firm, encountering a racially charged situation. Now I don’t particularly mean that they are literally the only white or black person in a room or business; but often our views about race are so internalized and so personalized, that we become isolated within those views, and we see ourselves in the place of Jack, or Susan or Henry, who seem to be the only ones who understand how they feel about race as individuals, and who are left to battle race alone. No wonder, why all the talk about sex and on the stage produced such comfortable laughter from the audience, because it was linked to personal ideas about race, which is too often a very personal and very individual experience. The presentation of race and sex together then, on a stage, is a delightfully attractive prospect to an audience. The theatre creates an optimal environment in which an audience can learn from a presentation about race because with their guards down, the audience is invited to share their personal opinions and experiences of race with each other and with the production, and to really learn what their experiences mean in the wider context of race relations within American society.
    It was interesting to me, that David Mamet seemed to suggest that the dilemma in the play represented what characters may do under pressure, and how as was mentioned in the play, any character will use the relative advantages that they have to obtain upward mobility in society. In the play, the stress that these characters were under was in my opinion, a battle for resources. It was a political, social and economic struggle that each character pursued on behalf of themselves and of their respective race and gender. The fact that a struggle for resources in a first world country is so brute as to warrant using differences that ought to unite us as weapons or means of division, is telling. Almost absent from the play were notions of compassion or thoughtfulness as being important to the characters’ struggle to survive, or to their notions of a solid, thriving humanity. These notions were almost completely absent with the exception of Strickland’s claim to have loved the woman that he allegedly raped, and of Jack’s claim that he hired Susan out of compassion, even after knowing that she falsified portions of her resume. What the play then offers the audience is an unsettling uncertainty; what will be the future of race relations in America? Perhaps the play cautions that at the end of the day, all we are left with is distrust, and with an economic and social struggle based on race which is too ancient to abort, and which has the potential to trump any efforts at compassion which we may hope to show one another. That ultimately, our desire to emerge triumphant in this struggle will result only in our continued efforts to pass the burden of compromise, trust and equity off to a few martyrs whom we immortalize in our memories, holidays and postage stamps; but whom we continue to betray daily with our actions. Maybe plays like the production of Mamet’s “Race” at Theatre J, will help to awaken a sensitivity to and awareness of, our responsibility to carry the burden of race relations inherited from our past, fairly and compassionately.

    • I wonder how much this exercise of viewing people’s competitive nature under pressure was made possible by the nature of the environment. The entire narrative takes place in the sleek office of an upscale law firm in what we assume to be a big city. The story could have been told in many different ways. However, the production centers on the legal strategizing — with the scenes never parting from the partner’s office of Lawson and Brown where all the scheming takes place.

      What I mean is that although Mamet suggests a bleak future for race relations in America, I don’t know if I believe that the happenings of this competitive law firm are truly indicative of the “average American.” I really hope that this is just a hyper-intense circumstance created by Mamet and that the compassion and thoughtfulness you so rightly note are missing from the production are not really missing from most Americans.

    • I would like to comment on and expand one of the topics that Melissa broached: the questionable future of American society in terms of race relations. Melissa states that a potential takeaway from Mamet’s play is that American’s are “left with a distrust” along with recurring economic and social struggles. I do agree with this prediction and point of view, but I would also like to address what I thought of upon reading “what will be the future of race relations in America?” I thought that the play was racially diverse considering the two white actors and two black actors, one being a female. However, what I found interesting was the fact that Henry, the black attorney, was working to defend Charles, the white, alleged rapist. As Henry stated in the beginning of the play, the white man is always trying to get the black man in trouble and blame him for something; however, in this play, the black man was defending the white man even though Henry is fully aware that his client, Charles, is guilty of raping a black female.

  5. After the performance of “Race” someone asked me if it made me feel uncomfortable. It did. Even when the lines were so funny I openly laughed and the dialogue was fast-paced and witty (even incredibly so), I was uncomfortable the entire time. This is significant, because to talk about race is, in its very nature, an uncomfortable experience: uncomfortable, but necessary. This play lived up to its title.

    In the post-performance discussion someone asked Michael (Henry) and Crashonda (Susan) about their character’s relationship, which is hostile. They never converse with one another, and when Henry is not busy disregarding her, he is infuriated with her. At one point he asks Jack to “explain” things to her (silly girl). The tensions between the two of them during the play made the audience think not just about issues of race, but also about gender. Crashonda mentioned Susan’s struggle as a woman in a competitive, aggressively-masculine work place of a law firm. She touched briefly, and with some hesitation, on the shameful reality that oftentimes women in positions of power have to fight the desire to “stay out of the way.” I think it was really important that she mentioned this, even if it may be uncomfortable to hear (and admit). There is power in the histories and legacies we all carry around with us, as Crashonda pointed out. The history of black woman’s bodies being objectified still presses on present day stereotypes and self-perception.

    Susan may have written an impressive dissertation but at the end of the day she is still told she should put on the red sequin dress and fall on to a mattress in the courtroom. Ultimately Jack and Henry treat her (as an “other” body marked both black and woman) differently than they may have treated a young male hire. At the end of the first scene Susan reminds Jack that the case is about race not sex. The lights cut out as he asks what the difference is.

    I really appreciate the discussion this play has opened up a space for, both with the cast after the play and on this blog so far. It’s an intriguing script made powerfully uncomfortable by a talented cast.

    • I appreciate your comments Austin. I also applaud you for thinking deeper into the context of the play as it relates to social identities and digging past the outward framework of the legal themes.

      I find it interesting that you mention how you, as a white woman, were uncomfortable throughout the play. During the play and as a black woman I have to admit that I was not really uncomfortable at the words that were being said. However, that does not mean that I was not shocked at the audacity of the lines and this play’s push to “go there.” While my mouth did hang open at one moment when they repeated the N bomb followed by the B word, for some reason I was not really uncomfortable. Rather, I felt more in sync with the play and the deeper messages and discussion it was trying to get across about race. As a black woman, it is not like I have never heard lines like that used against my race or my gender, and I know all too well the history of what I will call “name-calling” and hate against people of the black race.

      While I find myself asking myself if I should have been more uncomfortable, all I can say is that I came from the play in a place that understood why all those lines needed to be said—it is a learning tool of the history of hate that our country once whole-heartedly embraced that need to be confronted, and not ignored, for people to understand how deep the wounds cut and to assess the damage that cannot really be undone.

    • I really appreciate the insight that Austin put into the discussion. My personal experiences led me to focus a lot on the legal perspective of the play, so it was very important for me to read a posting that brings me back to the reason why the play is named “Race”.
      The relationship between Henry and Susan was definitely an interesting dynamic. It makes me wonder about whether or not Susan’s presence made Henry uncomfortable, not just as a woman, but also as a black coworker. When Susan asks Henry if he knew that Charles was guilty and Henry doesn’t respond, it feels like she’s pointing out his hypocrisy in conforming to a judicial system that will, once again, rule unfairly against a black woman.

  6. This was, by a long shot, my favorite play we have had the pleasure and honor of viewing this far in the semester.

    “Race” by David Mamet was controversial, it was suspenseful, and it was grasping, gripping even, in its approach to a historically sensitive topic in American history. Perhaps I enjoyed the play so much because as a history fiend, I enjoy the progression of different times – notably the era the play is set in in contrast to where we are today – but also the contextual nature of these words. I too was uncomfortable, but only fleetingly, at some of the language, and I believe that is Mamet’s point: to drill down the severity of some of the language, create an aura of uncomfortable environment, and then bring viewers and listeners back into the larger discussion taking place.

    I think that I enjoyed the play because working in the Office of Correspondence for work, we see all matters via email, mail, and through the Comment Line phone system. We hear about people who have been discriminated against at work, people fighting for their lives and reputations, people who are unsure of themselves, people struggling to belong in an America reeling from so much discomfort it often forgets about so many of these people.

    I have been asked, perhaps one too many times, since I arrived in D.C. what drew me into politics. My answer has always been two-fold, and was answered by this play. When I was eleven, I saw my friends get shot by a neo-Nazi, and have since adopted a no-nonsense approach to solving several of the divides that still bridge gaps in our communities today – it’s why I write, it’s why I seemingly don’t care what people think of me, it’s why I’m bent on fixing our society to be more accepting and more open to having candid dialogues on issues such as race, culture, religion, differing social classes, and different views on all issues – seemingly menial or significant.

    To tie back into the play, the second reason is that we tend to believe that racism has dissipated across time, but in many different ways, it has only grown worse. For better or worse, this play could have taken place in many workplaces and communities today – and we forget that far too often.

    As much of an honor as it was to see this play, it was an honor to listen to the post-show discussion even more so. As the actor said, “I see this play, I act it, but I remember that it drives me to leave behind a world for my daughter Margalita, that will be free of this racism, but also to allow her to remain alert, vigilant at the fact that these gaps still exist today. That’s what drives me.” Fittingly, that is precisely what drives me. I’m glad to see this play happen in as open and candid a way as I think Mamet wanted when he penned it, because it is these candid, blunt, open dialogues that remain critical to our progress as a society, and as a Nation.

    • Brandon, I agree – this was probably my favorite play we’ve seen so far as well. I don’t know if it was the brilliant dialogue, the gradual unraveling of each character, or the touchy themes Mamet expounded upon, but I was enthralled by the whole experience. I’m also glad you mentioned the discussion we had after the play. The actors clearly put their heart and soul into every second of the production, and their revealing comments truly put this effort on full display.

      That comment about the actor’s daughter also deeply affected me – I’m always interested to hear what drives parents to provide for their children. The actor had clearly been through a lot in his time, and to know that his life experiences gave him the fuel to provide for his daughter is a reflection that I’ll take with me after I leave DC. Mamet really is a brilliant playwright, and this production put on full display exactly why he’s considered one of the best.

    • First of all, forgive my belated comment. I’m way late to the drawing board on this one, but will opine nonetheless. Brandon, this comment was very insightful. The part I want to address is your notion about racism growing worse over time. This was one of the themes that shook me up the most. There is such a tendency to believe (or at least to want to believe) that we live in a post-racial world, one of a math-book-esque diversity where children of different skin colors coexist magically over calculations. And I don’t mean to sound overly-casual about that assumption. It seems to me sometimes that the only way our country knows how to talk about race in this day and age is by pretending that equality reigns so supremely that colors have become irrelevant and beg transcending. I never really bought that assumption, but my own experience as an audience member watching “Race” made me realize how much of a fallacy it really is. While “Race” and its riveting post-show discussion presented a fabulous opportunity, I hope to find more arenas in which I can discuss the vile history and hopefully-bright future of race relations in America.

  7. To me, the play race was a riveting and real look at issues that should be talked about more but usually are not. I continue to be blown away at plays that are so simple—the set in this play never changed, and there were only four characters—yet are profound in their message.

    I found it interesting when several times throughout the play Henry and Jack were talking to Charles and Charles would be uncomfortable and not want to tell his lawyers what he was thinking. However, at each of these moments, Henry knew what Charles was going to say before he had a chance to say it. To me, it was like Henry was a lot more attuned to the dynamics of the case, and Jack was constantly trying to keep up, as Henry had to explain things to him several times. These scenes reminded me of this line, spoken several times throughout the play—“There is nothing that a white person can tell a black person about race.” This line spoke a lot to me, and one that I believe to be true in many ways.

    It truly is a privilege not to have to think about race, as Charles and Jack seemed to exemplify during the play. At one moment in the play, Charles was baffled at the fact that his old college roommate kept a postcard for decades with a racist, misogynist message on it. When he saw the postcard, Charles said, “I humiliated my friend all these years and I didn’t even know it.” This scene really stuck out to me because it personified white privilege.

    During the discussion, Michael, the man who played Henry, said that there had to be a spiritual connection between all of the actors in order to say the lines that they said in the play. Furthermore, he stated that the play is what it is in order to be a forum for teaching audiences about race and racial dynamics and bringing up discussions that people might want to talk about but are afraid to do so—because of fear of how others will react, or fear of admitting their own racial privilege.

    I encourage everyone to think about what Michael said and use this play as a reflection about your own personal experiences (or lack thereof) with race. As the actors played their roles so brilliantly and poignantly, we should use this as a learning moment to talk about these issues in relation to the play and our own lives—this blog is a forum in which we all should challenge ourselves to do that. It seems appropriate to me that after we watch a play entitled “Race” that our postings should largely reflect the issue of race—whether as we saw it in the play, and/or how it relates to our own lives. I certainly appreciate reading reflections directly relating to issues of race, gender, and social identities in general and our personal interactions with these issues.

    • Bri’An—I too found the production to be riveting. Race is not discussed as much as it ought to be. I was glad to be part of a residential learning community freshman year that focused on social engagement and awareness—called Michigan Community Scholars Program. Coming from a very small, homogenous and rural town, race is something I never thought of growing up. Through MCSP I had several classes that referenced “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” which I’m sure if you’ve taken an introductory psychology or sociology course at Michigan, you’ve heard of. It was eye-opening for me, and, like you, I am interested in people’s perspective on race based on their lives and reading reflections on issues of race and gender. I am sad that because I saw the play on Wednesday night, I was unable to speak to the actors afterwards, but it is good to read the message Michael told you guys after the show.

    • I really like your discussion of privilege, Bri’an, and how you mention that privilege shapes all discussions of race. I think a
      central theme in the play is how we all need to be more conscious of the fact that we speak to one another from radically different places. To think that race can be brushed over and ignored in conversation (the way Henry and Jack ultimately fail at doing) is to ignore an entire history and reality shaping their lives and carriers. That Charles thought it was merely friendly banter with his college
      roommate points to how completely oblivious he is as a rich, white man that can afford to go on island vacations while attending a university. I also think how lightly the two men treated the issue of rape (asking Susan to put on the dress, asking if she had ever been called names during sex, etc.) points to their privilege as men. This play reminded me that in any environment we need to keep an awareness of the experiences of the people around us and work more at checking our privileges.

  8. Race is a really difficult thing to talk about. At Berkeley, there is a class held every semester that brings together students of different sexual orientations, genders, socioeconomic backgrounds, and races. They meet once a week to discuss a different minority — hearing the experiences of those who identify with that particular minority and the perceptions of those who don’t. I had the opportunity to be a part of this unique experience last semester, but I turned it down because I was afraid of how uncomfortable it would be.

    I thought that as a white woman with a relatively privileged upbringing I wouldn’t have a lot to contribute to the discussion. I was nervous that I would feel guilty for what I may have avoided just through inheritance. I was scared I would find out that the world I believed to be past racial-biases actually had a long way to go. I think what scared me the most was that once I had learned all this I wouldn’t have the courage to do anything to fix the problem.

    After seeing RACE this Thursday, I felt ashamed that I wasn’t brave enough to take part in that semester-long discussion. The play made me think about those issues I had wanted to ignore. Those jarring transitions between scenes were a visual and audible slap forcing me to pay attention to the deeper themes and not get lost in the fast abrasive dialogue. In the post-show discussion, the dramateur mentioned that these transitions had a special relation to Sharon. With this piece of information, I developed a different interpretation of the transitions. In addition to being a reminder that “this is uncomfortable” or a command for the audience’s attention, these transitions were Sharon’s emotional reaction to the events of the play. She carries the memories of the past injustices toward African American women even though she didn’t actually experience them, and that shapes her reaction to what is happening right now.

    Seeing what Sharon carried with her has made me really revaluate how I view race. It is not fair to pretend that the mistakes of past generations don’t continue to effect who we are today. Charles’ ability to joke about race with his college roommate Bill didn’t mean they had overcome problems of the past. Henry is the one who points this out, and I believe he does so because of his relationship with Jack. Henry and Jack discuss race as if it is just another obstacle, albeit a significant one, that they must get around to acquit their client.

    I think deep down Henry is pained by this characterization of race while Jack is oblivious to it being wrong. As Michael pointed out after the show, the way Henry and Jack are together just doesn’t work anymore.

  9. The topic of Race has never off the table throughout American history, and has always been the most controversial one. The play RACE unfolds many aspects of the word RACE, not just as simple as about discrimination on minority, or African American in this case, or anything on skin-deep level, but it actually involves many different layers.

    Nowadays, most people possess the modern racism, which is a social psychology term that defined as “Prejudice directed at other racial groups that exists alongside rejection of explicitly racist beliefs”. It is about the conflict between what many people really think or feel and what they think they should think or feel. It is also about the conflict between automatic or unconscious response and more thoughtful attitudes. This term embodied in all the characters in the play. No one wants to admit that they are racism, because they are all well-educated; but, like to characters were saying, racism would never off the table between Black and White.

    What Henry was doing to Susan may fit into the category of benevolent racism, which is another social psychology term means that people who hold ambivalent attitudes tend to act positively to outer group members only if they fulfill their idealized image.

    Although this play has four characters, but no more than three of them are on the front stage at most of the time. Because of the fact that the play itself contains many professional legal languages, keeping fewer characters at the same time may be easier and clearer for audiences. However, as an ESL student, I still feel challenged to follow the dialogues.
    ( I want to express my feelings a little bit, not only about this play, but all three plays I have seen so far. I feel that I might have missed a lot of essences about the play, especially in term of the significances that the play writer wanted to portrait due to my disfluency of the language. I really hope that those plays would someday, be translated into Chinese, or other languages, so that people all around the world would have chance to enjoy the fantastic cultures. I always try to think deeper and do more critical practices, but it’s really difficult in another language. Nevertheless, I really enjoy all the plays so far and feel so fortunate to take this course. )

    The play is awesome. I really enjoy the fact that characters are using slangs all the time, and even say some “F” words; I think it shortened the distances between the characters or the show itself with audiences. I really appreciate it. Compare to last play, OUR TOWN, which was very elegant and make me feel that I’m really watching a play; however, this play makes me feel like I’m facing the reality. It’s awesome, and I believe it’s the very style of the talented play writer David Mamet.

    The afterward discussion with all the actors and actress was fantastic. I have never been that close to the professional actors and actress and got a chance to listen to their feelings and even their life experiences. I really like all of them, they are not only talented as actors but also are awesome people.

    I really want to do more analyze in details, but I really have limited time as today is the CHINESE NEW YEAR’S DAY, I have to go and celebrate with my Chinese friends. We are going to make dumplings. HAPPY NEW YEAR, everyone!!!!!

  10. The performance of “Race” at Theater J was my favorite performance to date. In particular, the performances of James Whalen and Michael Anthony Williams were phenomenal. Their portrayals of two high-powered lawyers could not have been more spot on. The eye opening moment of the play for me was when Michael calls Crashonda Edwards an “affirmative action lawyer.” I immediately remembered a story my father told me about a lawyer, let’s call him Mr. Smith, who was the first black partner at a major national law firm. He told me that Mr. Smith despised affirmative action because no matter how successful or how qualified he was, most people thought he had made partner only because of the color of his skin.
    The Supreme Court case of Fisher v. University of Texas is once again bringing the merits and legality of affirmative action into the national spotlight. Fisher, a white female, sued the University of Texas for discrimination after she was not admitted to the university despite her qualifications. When hearing the hurtful words of Michael to Crashonda, I could not help to debate the merits of affirmative action in my mind. First, is affirmative action constitutional, regardless of the ruling in Grutter v. Bollinger, and is it fair to all parties? Second, and even more important in my mind, does affirmative action negatively impact highly motivated and skilled minorities? Personally, one of my greatest fears is someone will think I “made it” at something, not because of merit; but, because of preferential treatment. I can only image how Crashonda must have felt when she was told that the reason she was at this high-powered firm, the reason she went to an Ivy League school was because of the color of her skin. To me, telling someone they don’t belong, they are not one of us, they did not really make it, is extremely hurtful. As long as affirmative action exists, this sentiment will exist. For this reason, I am for equality, but opposed to affirmative action. I don’t think talented, deserving minorities should suffer the stigma they are not qualified because of the color of their skin. This is not fair to them.

    • I appreciate your honesty Brian. Nevertheless I wholly disagree with your argument about affirmative action as it relates to this play. Michael’s character calls Susan an “affirmative action lawyer” but not in the context in which you described. Michael’s character being about 40-50yrs old as the script reads comes from an era where discrimination was blatant and tangible and where he didn’t have the protection of being able to sue for discrimination had he not gotten the job. He would have had to ‘keep his head down and just hope he makes it’ so to speak. This is why he is so upset when Susan bites back about the process by which she was hired (which was NOT affirmative action, but equal opportunity employment clauses by which any entity is legally bound). In the context of the play she spoke out against her unfair treatment as extensive searches are not required for everyone but he still chose to do so because she was Black. Michael perceived this as her being stupid and ungrateful and tells her that she should take her ‘hand-out’ and keep quiet. This speaks to the narrative of a man who was not groomed in a world where equal opportunity was legally enforced in any aspect of society yet.

      But I digress; affirmative action does not speak to the narrative of negatively impacting underprivileged people because of preferential treatment. That is a narrative that denies the reality that without affirmative action entities would not even take a second look at say, a woman or a person of color. The stigma of not being qualified because of the color of ones skin is one not created by minorities or affirmative action but by those who discriminate against minorities.

  11. Please forgive me for the strange metatheatre experiment I am about to conduct. On top of the discussion the Jack and Susan have about the nature of the court and how to win a trial, I believe that David Mamet is making a larger commentary on how to win an audience. Mamet is using his characters and the tips Jack outlined to make his own case and convince us, the true jury, to make a favorable verdict. On the most basic level, he has to give us a story that is unique and we can appreciate. Done. The narrative between Jack, Henry, Susan, and Charles is complex and compelling. Next, Mamet must make us like the client enough to pass him or they have to make us love ourselves enough to make a “difficult decision.” And looking over earlier blog posts and judging from the post-show discussion, we may have both. Significantly, we are having to make difficult decisions about ourselves, and we are bravely struggling with our preconceptions, our past decisions, and how race has played a role in our lives. So we are already in a position to eagerly listen to what Mamet has to say.

    During the crisis when Jack and Henry receive the new witness statement from the elderly couple, Jack comes up with the solution that in order to make the jury forget about a scandal or a source of shame, they have to overshadow it with a greater source of shame. So what is Mamet trying to blind us with? My immediate suspicions were that he was using profanity, or maybe the mystery of Susan’s lie on her resume (even though Jack claims that the lie was not relevant to the job, and the emphasis is placed on the fact that she lied not the lie itself), but those did not seem substantial enough.

    One of the more solid conclusions I have come to is that race could be the overlying shame, and rape could be the underlying horror. Clearly, in Mamet’s play race is an extremely important issue and is well-debated; however, I personally felt that the occurrence of the rape was pushed aside and on the rare occasion the incident was brought up, it was poorly treated. Who was Charles’ victim, other than a loosely-outlined figure only defined by her red sequin dress, the color of her skin, and the focus of objectification and debasement as Henry and Jack rip her apart as the opponent? Yes, the argument can be made that humanizing details and her attendance are not included because the play is entirely from the perspective of Henry and Jack’s business, but she does not even have a name. Her presence only exists as another injustice inflicted upon African Americans, and black women in particular. Sure, Susan carries those wrongs with her throughout the entire play, but she views it mostly as a crime against race. Her fight is against Charles, and not in defense of the woman.

    Furthermore, the topic of consent is barely developed- it is brought up once when Charles expresses some guilt that she may have felt obliged to sleep with him, and then Jack claims that the fact there seemed to be no sequins proved that she took off the dress herself. That does not imply consent or mean that she took it off willingly. Just because race was the main issue in the play does not mean that other matters can be ignored.

  12. I thoroughly enjoyed watching Mamet’s “Race” this past Thursday. I feel like this Theater J production did a really great job of encouraging discussions on race. What made “Race” so great is that it does not provide an ultimate message on the topic of race; it does not bring forth an observation or a suggested solution for easing racial tensions. Instead, Mamet makes a point that race is a complicated topic that is well avoided in our society despite their existence. By showing the complexities and the confusing manner in which racial tensions pervade our lives, Mamet (I feel) is helping viewers start discussions and establish racial differences as comfortable topics. What I really enjoyed about “Race” was the fact that the play showed how difficult the issues surrounding race is, but how necessary it is at the same time. The confusing racial assumptions each character (Jack, Henry, and Susan) made seems to reinforce this need for our society to be more open and comfortable to discuss such issues. One of the scenes that stuck out to me most was when Susan asked Jack how he could defend someone who was guilty. This scene showed me how important it is to address racial tension because the question of applying the right process of justice was all thrown off by the racial tensions underlying the case. The play acted as a great example of what could happen when the objectivity of a legal case is thrown askew by a certain societal discomfort taken to the extreme. It also allowed me to wonder how much of our daily interactions/behaviors/thoughts are affected by such underlying tensions.

    Lastly, let me note that I really enjoyed all four actor’s performances. But in specific, I was really intrigued by Jack and Susan’s relationship. Throughout the play, their dialogues posed the “uncomfortable-when-spoken-aloud” feeling that Mamet (I believe) wants to address. This made me feel especially aware of their presence on stage.

    • I really appreciated your response BJ. I would agree with you that Mamet was trying to illustrate how race can further complicate already complicated human situations. However, what one of the actors said during the post show discussion really impressed upon me, in terms of how Mamet chose to portray race in his play. I remember one of the actors saying, that Mamet includes a lot of punctuation in the play which restricts how flexible the actors can be with the script in terms of wanting to stay true to Mamet’s intentions. Mamet’s inflexibility in his script shows that he is trying to say something specific about how life, business and relationships are complicated by race. In the production we saw, it was clear that the dramaturg and director felt that race complicates these situations through our history, through academia or our educatoinal experiences, as well as through sex. All of these elements are not only infused with racial biases, but are also vehicles for racial propoganda. I think part of what Mamet was saying about race, is that race is so integrated into all aspects of society, that we can detect racial bias in almost anything, and that that bias illuminates various realities about human behavior, mainly that in the end, competition and a desire to survive drives most of our decisions. Playwrights rarely just want to show that something is complicated; they typically present important topics like race from a very particular angle, and questioning that angle reveals alot about what they think, or what they want the audience to think about the topic.

  13. Right from the start of Race, I could tell I was in for a completely different play going experience from the other shows this semester. Unlike Boged and Our Town, which are very calm at first and slowly build up the energy and intensity, Race is intense right from the start. We don’t even know the characters’ names or their purpose for being in the office before there is already a discussion about race. But this highlights exactly what the play was going for; it doesn’t matter who they are or where they are, all that matters is race. Even when we learn about Charles’ crime, this isn’t the only problem the characters have that deals with race. Equally as important are the relationships between the characters: Jack and Susan, Charles and Susan, Charles and his old friend, Jack and Henry. In each of these situations, race is brought to the forefront right away, and so intense it is impossible to ignore.

    That fact is why Race reminded me of the post-show discussion after Our Town. While all of the couples in Our Town where interracial, this fact was never addressed in the play. Kevin McAllister, one of the actors, mentioned that this was intentional; it brought attention to the topic of race without directly addressing it so as to downplay its importance. It made the statement that it didn’t really matter. That’s what I enjoyed the most about Race; it felt the need to emphasize its importance. Last semester, I took a class titled “The Political Psychology of Racism,” and one of the things I remember from it is that noticing differences and forming stereotypes are natural mental processes of humans, and it takes work to suppress expressing these stereotypes. Therefore, even though racism is less socially acceptable than in the past, race will always play a factor in some way in people’s lives. We can’t just ignore it and hope that racism will go away, because it always takes work to do so.

    In the post-show discussion, I really enjoyed when Michael Anthony Williams said had he not become an actor, he would have been a lawyer. The reason for this is that both jobs are essentially the same. A defense lawyer needs to paint a story and make it believable by how they and the witness act. In Race, Jack and Henry never cared if Charles was guilty or not, they only cared if they could make it seem that he was innocent. The facts didn’t matter, so long as they could spin them in their favor. This view of lawyers as actors made me feel very cynical about our legal system. I know it is not all like this, but it seems like it mostly is. I decided against becoming a lawyer after I took a class on Constitutional Law and realized that I wasn’t interested in spending three years of my life studying stuff like that, but if I knew that being a lawyer was like how it is in Race, my decision would have been made much earlier.

    • Lou, let me begin by saying that I really enjoyed your comments. While I agree with you on some points, I also disagree with a point you made. In your post you stated that being a defense lawyer is like being an actor in the sense that both “paint a story and make it believable”. Though I understand exactly where you may get this impression, I personally believe they are very different. In a response to Sarah’s comments above, Brian wrote about how a lawyer responded to the question of defending someone who is guilty. He said that it is not the client he is protecting, but rather the Constitution… This hit me very hard. Although I have harbored similar doubts like you did, Brian’s story responds to these doubts with a weighted answer: we defend everyone because it is their right.
      Often times, I think we place emphasis on the legal system as “spinning facts in their favor”, when, in reality, these men are doing exactly what is depicted as “justice”. If a society were to wholeheartedly agree that someone is guilty, should a lawyer not even defend this said person? What happens if society was wrong? I would hate to think that no body would come to my defense if I were wrongly accused of being guilty of a crime. If no lawyer ever defended the individual who they believed is wrong/guilty, wouldn’t this act be a sort of sentence on its own or a final judgment? In reality, I think it is this ability to defend all accused individuals that gives our justice system strength. Justice is complex and difficult without black and white answers; sometimes, what may seem right may be the wrong. No matter how blatant some evidence might be against someone, the U.S. upholds this notion of being innocent until proven guilty. I really do understand the way you perceive the legal system. Please do not take this as a “rip” or a criticism because it is very far from that. What I have posted is a personal opinion and the way I view the legal system. Much like discussions on racial tension, I also believe it is important to talk about our concerns with the legal system if we are to be the future generation.

  14. I thoroughly enjoyed the Theater J Production of “Race” by David Mamet. And I have to start by complimenting the actors. I know that they are use to memorizing lines and Professor Roth has said to not ask actors “how do you memorize your lines?” But seriously, how did they memorize those lines? There were only four of them and the play was an hour and a half long, with constant dialogue. And everything was delivered so quickly. I was just so impressed with the cast.

    I was really surprised with the storyline of the play. After reading a little bit about it I was expecting the play to be about the trial of Charles, but the audience never leaves the office of Jack and Henry. Susan’s actions were very unexpected—but I was glad she botched the investigation and the lawyers “version of the truth.” When Jack first suggested to Susan that she should wear the red dress during the trial, and she didn’t disagree or seem offended in the least, I was really disappointed in the character. I was uncomfortable with the fact that she seemed comfortable with that.

    I didn’t have any real predictions about whether Charles was guilty or not. At first I was sure he was, but he seemed genuinely guilty about what he had done with his college roommate, and I started to think, well, maybe he is innocent. Discussing race is so taboo these days, so I’m glad to see there are works addressing the issue—maybe there should be more. I don’t know how others felt, but I kind of felt really dejected and hopeless at the end. I wonder if that is what Mamet intended. It will be good to read how others felt at the end or other opinions about what message Mamet was trying to deliver. Although, I ‘m not quite sure myself yet.

  15. For another week, our class has been lucky to see a fantastic production. This week’s play, David Mamet’s race, touched on subjects we as a society dare never address directly. To start off this post, I’ll do something the actors (in our post-show discussion) were unable to do: pull out my favorite quote. Now, it’s not the quote most people would choose, especially because it doesn’t address the play’s key theme of race. Here it is: “There are no facts of the case. There are two fictions.” Maybe this is why I love courtroom dramas so much, and just law in general. There’s no way to figure out what was true and what was false, you just have to use your best judgment when analyzing the two fictions played out before you on stage.

    Now onto the race theme. It was interesting to see the two types of racism in the play: overt and subtle. The overt racism came from Charles’ character with his racist views on black women’s sexuality, and from Jack, Henry, and Susan’s serious conversations about white-black relations. The subtle racism was what I was so interested about, though.

    When Susan confronted Jack about his history of investigating black applicants, I felt this was a very strong, poignant scene. I even noticed that the lights dimmed, which I saw as implying that the audience was entering the dark side of Jack’s character. It was interesting to see the tables turned on Jack. While he and Henry had been discussing Charles’ obvious racism, what was not so obvious was how each of them would be subconsciously or subtly racist.

    The dialogue of the play was incredible, also. The back and forth between characters was just fascinating and exciting to watch, and while the serious nature of the topics could have been glossed over due to the quick dialogue, when it slowed down, the themes were even more palpable. Overall, the play was a blast to see, and I hope the rest of the productions we see are as good, and hopefully, but most likely not, even better.

    • Sam, I am so glad you brought up the changing of the lights during the post show discussion. Oddly enough, I didn’t notice the lights changing at all. Since we all discussed how fast the pace of the play was, I think I was honestly focused on keeping up with the dialogue and somehow completely missed the changing of the lights. If I could see this play again I would be sure to pay more attention to the lights.

      I also like that you talked about the indirect racism of the play. Henry, of course, openly talked about race several times throughout the play. But the more subtle racial aspects were far more interesting. I couldn’t shake the image of Susan wearing the red dress in court for the demonstration! I couldn’t believe Jack would even ask her to do that! And then like you said with the background checks done on Susan before her hiring was another interesting racial aspect of the play.

      Going into the play I thought the main racial aspect would be that Charles was accused of raping a black women, but as the play went on, we found out it was about much more than that. I really enjoyed the several subplots going on throughout the entire course of the play.

      I agree, this show set the standards for the rest of the semester very high!

  16. I think race is always a sensitive issue to address, and I was surprised with how the production “Race” made such a direct confrontation to the topic. I was definitely uncomfortable during the play, even though I tried to enjoy the play for what it was.

    The opening scene really grabbed my attention, as Henry told Charles to “sit down”, and asked him “you want to tell me about black folks?” I think Henry really set the tone for the play as he displayed an affirmative pose. Charles, on the other hand, seemed as though he had done something wrong. Through the interactions between the two lawyers Henry and Jack, and with the presence of Susan, I was fascinated by the role of race in the discussion of the case. In what could have been a relatively straightforward case led to a heated debate on race. The struggle between Susan and her superiors was apparent throughout the play as she attempted to get herself too involved in the case. She wanted to prove Charles guilty because she felt that, as a black woman, she needed to stand up against oppression.

    I will close out with a thought- I really wonder how the play would play out if the ethnicity of the woman who was charging Charles were replaced by another race. If the woman was a Hispanic woman, or an Asian woman, would this change the whole storyline or how the lawyers would have approached this case?

  17. As I was watching the play Race, I thought about how much I identified with Susan as being a Black woman, young and well educated. I found myself feeling every feeling of shock, disbelief, disappointment, inferiority, anger, and empowerment that she displayed at moments within the play because I have experienced that range of emotions in my experiences as a Black woman so it was almost as though I was watching myself play this role. Ironically, in a conversation after the play, Crashonda asked me about my experiences as a Black woman, being pre-law, well-traveled and in academia and there were exact parallels to her character; which further created an intense moment of reality for me in what should have been a fictional play.

    In the flashes of photos I was seeing my female ancestors bear the burden of oppression and I immediately knew that the director hoped to accomplish by allowing it to accompany each act of the play. They sought to give a back-story to Susan’s position, to her mind set; which I thought was incredibly done. I think that often times racism is something society today tries to disassociate itself from, claiming that we are in a “post-racial” society and I think being in a position as someone like Susan. Yes a White man, who may not have 50years ago, hired her but today she was also treated unfairly in a lot of subtle ways, proving that we are not in reality, effectively dealing with race.

    One of the most interesting and true lines that Henry said to Charles when Charles claimed he was treated unfairly was that “You were also treated unfairly when you was born into wealth.” I think in these terms wealth isn’t just material wealth (which is also a very strong statement) but privilege. The privilege to get what he wants when he wants it, for him to be assumed credible because he’s White and he’s a man. He has the privilege to be the agent of objectification and not be the subject of objectification but, and lastly but no less important, the privilege to not have to think about race. I think in order to effectively deal with racial discrimination, conflict, relations etc. it is wholly necessary for those who would otherwise benefit from or be unaffected by the discrimination of others to bring race to the forefront of their mind and stand against injustices by their own group. I think Race does a really good job of bringing the responsibility to the audience by leaving us thinking about these types of situations today and leaving us with the question, so what are you going to do?

    • Wow, I have the privilege to comment on this post first and hopefully others will follow. We have talked about a lot of these issues in the past. Topics like race, gender, and class are things that we face everyday. It was interesting to think that some people don’t even think about it, because they don’t have to. It does not affect them. In addition to that, it has been drilled into our generation’s psyche that we are in a post racial society. When one compares today to the images of Susan’s conscience, of course we have gotten better. It is no longer acceptable to lynch anyone because of their race or sex. It is no longer acceptable to call someone a racial slur (at least not publicly). It is no longer to acceptable to discriminate against someone because of their differences. We are, for the most part, beyond blatant acts of racism. However, its those subtle, micro aggressions that are present today. Being ignored in class, being questioned about abilities to excel, being feared instead of respected. Society likes to ignore these small things and like you said claim a post racial society. The problem with that is that it ignores the structural barriers that still exist for people of color. In my blog, I wrote about class and how Charles’ position in life allowed him to be ignorant to how society addresses issues of race. His class played a significant part of this but also his being white. This, my friends, affords privileges that continue to suppress our ability as a society to overcome the racial disparities that plague us. Jamesa, I applaud you for pointing out something that may not be obvious to the rest of our class and bloggers and for sharing your perspective.

  18. One of the reasons that I was interested in taking this class was because of the diverse perspectives that would be presented through the various plays and insights gained from classmates from across the country. David Mamet’s play “Race” especially intrigued me. One reason because I have spent my academic career focusing on American race politics, inequality, and the state of Black America. The other reason is my perspective as the only African American male in my program and in this class (which is too common at University of Michigan and other programs like this). That being said, I would like to state now that I do not represent the voice of the other Black people in the class, Black males, or the African American community as a whole. I am speaking as Mark Greer II, and my views have been shaped by at least 8 years of learning to navigate “White spaces”.
    Henry’s character in the play made me think about this aspect of my life. Henry is blunt about his distain for both Charles, who he thinks is “a rapist and a race-criminal” and for Susan, who he pegs as someone who received a “pass” because of her race. Henry’s character is easy for the audience to dislike because of his perspectives on race and gender. But when one thinks deeper of what Henry’s life has entailed up to this point, I understand his frustration. Henry had to learn how to navigate White spaces (college, law school, the work force) in a time when he probably had to endure blatant racism and discrimination. He is apart of the post civil rights era where he was allowed the opportunity to navigate those spaces, unlike many before him. However, he had to work hard despite that discrimination and held the weight of those before him who fought for his right to be in his position, and those after him, like Susan, who could have an easier road to travel. To him, Charles is another privileged White male who is oblivious to society outside of him. Henry speaks to Charles about his privilege, “ And p.s. I don’t like all this bulls*** about the world is treating you unfairly, as it also treated you unfairly when you were born to wealth, but I don’t believe that you complained then…”.
    I have encountered many “Charles’” in my life. They are people who are used to having everything handed to them because they are wealthy, or White. They are so used to the status quo that it is unbelievable that someone like myself could have gotten into U of M without Affirmative Action. Speaking of Affirmative Action, the idea is that Affirmative Action equalizes the playing field, it does not , as many opponents declare, give minorities priority over White candidates or “takes away a deserving spot”, as if the Black candidates are unqualified. It is to address the fact that White candidates have had the advantage of not being discriminated against and to provide the opportunity to advance enough in society to level the resources for future generations. Charles, represents this privileged perspective where one can think it is ok to make racist and sexist jokes to their Black roommate, or worst, behind closed doors. The problem is Charles, and others, do not even understand their privilege and will avoid discussing race issues because it doesn’t affect them, as it doesn’t cross their mind until it’s a situation of “reverse racism”, where their privilege is being challenge.
    Susan’s character is just as complicated. As the only woman that appears in the play, she carries that identity combined with her Black identity. We are reminded about this significance through the images during scene shifts. She holds these identities while Henry, another Black lawyer, is challenging her legitimacy as apart of the team. His perspective of her is that she is there “on a pass”, and that she is using her race and Jack’s guilt to get where she is. His frustration, even before he realizes that she sold them out, is that Jack hired her out of fear that she would sue for discrimination. He feels that she did not earn her position like he had to. He says “ I would be mortified, to go through life, thinking that I’d received a dispensation because of my race. And I am ashamed of her that she is not.” For me, the issue is that Susan was treated as if she was not qualified and that the situation was that because their process was discriminatory, they were afraid she would call them out and sue if she was denied. Being a lawyer has overshadowed his perspective as one who once navigated those spaces. Instead of acting as a mentor to the younger generation, he dismisses Susan as someone taking a handout.
    The reason this was so long was because the play brought out a lot of thoughts that I have. I argue, that society needs to have a honest conversation about race where everyone is actually listening. It will be uncomfortable, sure. But it needs to happen. We can start with our class and our perspective program.

    • Mark:
      I am so happy and thankful that you brought up privilege in your posting. The concept of privilege and power is one that I think every human being on this planet needs to understand. You are right, it is not something that is talked about often because people are afraid of feeling uncomfortable. And as a white, upper-middle class, female–I know why it’s a topic that makes people uncomfortable: in order to truly understand privilege and power, one has to acknowledge their own privilege and power. And here is where this discomfort comes into play–people are uncomfortable with saying they have privilege because they are quick to say they didn’t ask for it, and that they were born into it, or they worked for it–but that is EXACTLY the point.

      I am where I am today because I have had a very privileged life. It is not one that I asked for, but it is also one that I do not necessarily deserve. I have power because I am a member of the middle class and because I am college educated–but I only have this power due to my privilege. I am, in fact, a product of my privilege…and there is a heavy burden of guilt that comes along with that. Talking about it and understanding it is something that makes it easier to deal with, instead of discounting it or being angry about it…which what Charles, Henry, and Jack need a little help with understanding. Instead of debating and arguing about privilege and power, we need to dialogue about it–it’s the only way we can live in harmony, securing happiness, health, and liberty for all, because…we were not all created equal, we were created differently, but we all need to be treated equitable.

    • Right on, Mark. I have a huge issue with the idea of privilege and the blindness that often comes along with it, so Henry’s line about being treated fairly hit me hard. For anyone that is born into an identity outside of the conventional, whether it be race, sexual orientation, gender identity, etc., it is really a fight just to stand on equal footing. There will be people that are with you and support you, but there is also a wider sense of oppression and horrible incidents when others want to knock you down for something you cannot control, something that is just part of your humanity. And they will never understand what that feels like until they face it themselves, but even then, the “Charles” of the world will not entirely grasp it because that is just one moment and not an entire lifetime’s worth.

    • Mark, This is a wonderful comment that I enjoyed reading. About the discussion regarding race you suggested, I feel it is necessary, but at the same time also very difficult because I feel a lot of white people take the opinion about race that Charles and Henry present in the beginning of the play: “What can a white man say to a black man about race?” “Nothing.” Race is such a sensitive topic that I feel people would just like to ignore discussing it. We learned about something similar to this in a class last semester called Aversive Racism, where people are afraid to show racist tendencies, so they avoid explicit demonstrations of racism and replace it with more implicit forms of racist tendencies. Or in other words, people don’t think of themselves as racist while performing acts that are implicitly racist, which makes it more difficult to notice the racism. So, even thought they should, people will not want to talk about race out of fear they will appear as racists. While I agree that good, honest discussion is necessary, I just don’t have faith it ever really could or will happen.

  19. I saw Race a night ahead of the rest of the class, which also happened to be the first public performance of the show. I did not really know what to expect, but I did remember Professor Roth warning us that this play was a little more provocative than the rest. From our conversations about it in class, I knew that it was going to be racially charged and about a rape, but I didn’t know how it was going to be acted out onstage, or how it was going to make me feel.

    Race and ethnicity is something that I have had decent experience talking about.The University of Michigan is extremely diverse and there are endless opportunities on campus to learn more about different races and cultures. As a resident advisor working for University Housing, I went through specific training and classes to learn how to talk about race and social identity. But as I have learned, every day is a new day to learn and there is a huge stigma associated with talking about race.

    I think Mamet’s Race did a wonderful job with breaking down that stigma, which I really appreciated. Jack and Henry, the 2 Lawyers, were working with Charles, a white man accused of raping a black woman. Their roles were pretty straight forward, but we were constantly being exposed to new pieces of information regarding whether or not Charles is guilty of committing rape.

    The one character that I am still having trouble fully understanding, is Susan. Because I went to the show a night before everyone else, I wasn’t able to have a post-show discussion to breakdown the details of the play and to bring up questions with fellow classmates–I was left to my own devices of reasoning. In the opening scene, Susan was awkwardly standing off to the side for about the first 10 minutes of the scene before she made her presence known and initiated conversation. Her silhouette was also visible behind the fabric backdrop and the very beginning of Race. I did not know if this was symbolic of something, or if it was just a logistical mistake. From my experience with theater, I’ve learned that everything the actors do is deliberate, thought-out, and rehearsed. Therefore, I think that Susan’s standing to the side was a planned action. I think this was foreshadowing to the ending of the play. To me, it signified that she was important, quiet, and a bit sneaky; it kind of made me feel like she has an agenda.

    At the end of Race, Jack and Henry confront Susan about her having a hidden agenda. They accuse her of sabotaging their case and betraying them and their confidentiality. I still haven’t completely unpacked this scene, because before we found out if she truly did betray them, we learn that she was hired, despite not having their trust, because she was black and Jack was afraid of a lawsuit and negative if he did not hire Susan, bringing in more racially charged dialogue.

    So I think the message I ultimately got from Race was the fact that everyone, no matter what race, has biases–and in order to breakdown those biases and create a welcoming and inclusive environment to everyone on this planet, we need to talk about race and ethnicity. We need to have dialogues about our personal identities in a safe and respectful environment, just as the viewing of Race provided for us. It’s important to talk about, and it is an important element of life, which makes us all unique and special in our own individual way. We all have things to learn from each other, and talking about race is a great way to help accomplish this.

  20. This was an intense, powerful, and moving theater production. The often dodged and controversial topic of race is uniquely demonstrated in this play. As a result of the play’s title and topic, it drew a diverse audience. Initially, I did not know what to think of David Mamet’s Race. The actors’ statements were loud, passionate, and assertive, oftentimes filled with profanities. As a result, I found a few scenes funny, yet uncomfortable. It was almost as if I didn’t know if I could or should laugh; I didn’t know if it was appropriate or if every audience member, no matter their race, found it humorous too.

    A key theme in this production was the importance, or unimportance, of morals and ethics. One example of this is when Susan discovers that the white attorney issued a background investigation on her prior to her employment with the firm. Only two people received such an extensive background check with this firm, and both were African Americans. This scene portrayed the idea of having preconceived notions about someone. The most prominent example of morality in Race stemmed from the fact that Henry and Jack represented a guilty man. These lawyers attempted to compile evidence and fabricate stories proving that Charles was innocent, even though both Jack and Henry were well aware that he was not. To convince the others of their story, both Jack and Henry delivered their lines with such force and conviction, as if they believed each and every word they were saying. Personally, I would struggle with such a task if I very well knew that what I was trying to convince others of was false and illegal.

    Finally, I found the post-show discussion to add interest to this production. The actors admitted that it was very difficult to play a character that was so different from them. They shared how they sought outside help and training in order to perfect their role of a lawyer and convince the audience that they, too believed everything they were saying. I find this ability to be a real talent and characteristic of a professional and skilled actor.

  21. To say that Mamet seeks that which is taboo is fairly obvious, almost banal. He is unequivocally an agitator, entirely disenchanted with society, especially those who are drawn to the very art he creates (the “brain-dead” liberals). But regardless of his pretension or his politics, there is one thing that is abundantly clear: he is a master of dramatic language and structure.

    By its very title, RACE attempts to address both the latent and blatant prejudices that mar actions and interactions in our society. However, the text doesn’t attempt to merely address the bigotry of one group, how all humanity measures one another. RACE extends beyond its title, digging into the particularities of prejudice when gender and age is added to the complex receptions of individuals.

    The vision for Mamet’s world of direct and derogatory lawyers shifts from tactical maneuver to pandemonium, composition to chaos, contrasting one’s sleek outward appearance to their base beliefs. Though the dialogue is seems realistic, it is also emblematic; likewise the design elements function on two levels, from hyper-realism to symbolism. This is represented most profoundly with the set design. Kachmann’s bold strokes and sharp angles – painted on the floor, extending to the vertical lines of the office walls, halls, and furniture – both reflect the dagger-like dialogue of Jack and Henry, then framing the edges of the space with an almost sterile and systematic decoration of jurisprudence. Griffin’s lighting design is most distinct during pre and post-show, as he saturates the stark red line with crimson-gelled lights, drawing focus to the infamous red-sequined dress, whose only presence is only offered through this light and dialogue that swirls and distorts her image. Heightening the symbolic nature of the aesthetic were the sound and projections, abruptly ending and beginning scenes, barraging the audience with atonal notes and inciting, historic images of race. The stichomythic language and movement of the actors dynamically embody this world, musical and complementary, while dissonant and jarring.

    Ultimately, bringing these elements together, director Vreeke truly honors what I understand to be the objective of the text, and that is to cause the audience to second guess their own judgment. Does Susan sabotage the defense, or do we, like Henry, make this assumption due to our own prejudices about her gender, naiveté, or her own racial aims? Do we immediately assume that Charles, as a powerful, rich old white man, is in fact guilty of rape, or do we allow Jack’s distortion of the facts cloud our verdict? I believe Mamet does not want these questions to have clear-cut answers, nor does Vreeke. Rather, we’re asked to acknowledge how our own conscious and sub-conscious assessment of an individual shrouds our ability to interpret truth. I believe for Mamet the question is whether we can ever truly examine the world through another’s eyes; for Vreeke, however, our challenge is to do just that.

  22. Theater J’s brilliant production of RACE got under my skin in a way that I have never experienced by virtue of an artistic experience. The themes that spoke to me the most were justice, judgment, fear, and ambition. The struggle to tame these often-conflicting thematic layers was depicted by characters whose heady, egotistic interpretations of the law ran frantic circles around their disjointed concepts of morality.

    The play provided these struggles with both internal and external dimensions. The audience was witness to characters confronting, and being controlled by, their conceptions of their own race and that of their fellow characters. The play showed characters revealing (to themselves, each other, and the audience) the gritty power of spiteful prejudice and deep-seated fear. As I watched the characters navigate these emotions and impulses, my heart was filled with a sense of rage. Rage at my inability to understand the experience of a vast group of my fellow humans. Burning desire to understand that experience. Guilt for the color of my own skin and the atrocities that white people have historically committed (and are still committing) in the name of vanity, power, and dominance. Since I walked away from this production – which was a few weeks ago due to this shamefully belated blog post – I have not been able to put aside its meditations on identity formation and dissection.

    The line from the play that stood out to me most was:

    “This isn’t about sex—this is about race.”
    “What’s the difference?”

    This was an extremely poignant moment for me. As someone who considers my gender to be my primary identity, and constantly fights the internal and external battles that come along with being a woman, it was fascinating to see its intersection with racial identity. My journey as a woman has been molded most by experiences in which being a minority was made apparent to me through interactions in which I was powerless to (or at the mercy of) members of the clear majority. Similarly, my identity as a woman has gained the most strength and resilience in moments when I was able to assert myself and find a voice for my own power in harmony with (and sometimes opposition to) the majority. Because I am white, I had never thought about similar identity formation processes on a racial level. That’s why Susan’s struggle was so evocative for me; not only was she experiencing sexual discrimination in a sexualized workplace, but she had to deal with the racial dimension just as much, if not more.

    It isn’t that I don’t pay race any mind…it’s definitely something I am always thinking about, but it was fascinating for me to see its dominance over sex as the central axis of identity in this show, whose subject matter (a rape trial) is inherently sexual. These frameworks are so deeply intertwined, and this was the first work of art I have seen that successfully demonstrated their grim, gripping, and undeniable intersections.

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