by Hugh Hunter
“Race” (2009) by David Mamet, now being performed by The Drama Group at the First United Methodist Church of Germantown (FUMCOG), takes on the daunting task of summing up race relations in America. Mamet is known for distinctive dialogue, sometimes called “Mamet-speak,” but it reminds me of the humor one often hears in comedy clubs (Mamet once worked in Chicago’s “Second City” as a busboy), where the comic gets the chance to be an “enfant terrible.”
This style of humor is on full display in “Race,” where two lawyers try to decide if they want to take on the case of a white man accused of raping a black woman. As they kick it around, a young black legal assistant lurks by the bookshelf. She is observant and strangely quiet.
Directed by Colleen Bracken and Marc C. Johnson, the set is an imposing law office with legal tomes lining the rear wall. Enhancing the symbolic, the city could be anywhere.
I liked Jim Golden as the accused man, Charles. Golden makes you feel such sympathy for the character it trumps the question of guilt. Charles is like a little kid who wants to be forgiven — perhaps a version of the guilt-seeking white liberal.
I also liked Dante Zappala’s portrayal of the white law partner Jack, a legal whiz on top of his game. Marc C. Johnson is credible as Henry, the black lawyer, but Henry is there mostly to advance the plot and provoke the other characters.
Liz Priestly plays Susan, a legal aide. Here the show lost me. Priestly needs to say lines like “Do you think blacks are stupid?” with childlike hurt instead of anger. Because if she does not pose as a good heart early on, how does she fool someone as worldly as Jack? In fairness, I don’t think Mamet knows what he wants from this character.
“Race” is at its best in evoking the cynical ambiance of the law office. Legal eagle Jack sees the jury as an “audience” to whom he has to tell a “story.” Truth does not matter. Only winning the case does.
But “Race” can be laborious. The investigation of Charles’ guilt is continually broken up with speeches about race, and you start to feel that the story is merely a pretext for spouting ideas. “Race” is barely 90 minutes long, even though the action is stalled at times to milk dramatic tension. (“Do you want me to read you this letter? … Do you? … Are you sure?”)
The intermission does not occur at a dramatic highpoint that sparks curiosity, and the end is just a dump job. In “Race” you hear a lot about guilt, shame and redemption, but at the end of the day you just feel glad to be let out of school.
The Drama Group is located at the First United Methodist Church of Germantown, 6001 Germantown Ave. “Race” will run through Nov. 24. Tickets available at the door only. For more information, visit www.thedramagroup.org.