Kitchen Dog Theater
Director – Christopher Carlos
Stage Manager – Ruth Stephenson
Set Designer – Abby Kraemer
Lighting Designer – Linda Blase
Costume Designer – Christina Cook
Sound Designer – John M. Flores
Jack Lawson – Max Hartman
Henry Brown – Jamal Gibran Sterling
Susan – Jaqual Wade
Charles Strickland – Cameron Cobb
Reviewed Performance 11/15/2013
Reviewed by Jeremy William Osborne, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Most are familiar with David Mamet's seminal work, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Glengarry Glen Ross. Since then, Mamet hasn't rested on his laurels. He is continuously pushing out content in the form of plays, books, movies and television. His 2009 contribution is the provocative play Race, which played on Broadway for 271 performances starring James Spader, David Alan Grier, Kerry Washington and Richard Thomas.
Mamet said that the "theme is race and the lies we tell each other on the subject." The story follows two male attorneys, one black and one white, and their paralegal, a black woman, as they try to build a case to defend a rich, white man accused of raping a black woman. In true Mamet style, the topic of race and arguments surrounding it are up front and brashly not politically correct. The plot twists come perfectly spread apart so as not to be too confusing. As one wrinkle is ironed out, another catastrophe strikes.
Carrying the brunt of the lines is Max Hartman, Dallas Observer's Readers Choice for Best Local Actor 2013, as Jack Lawson. Hartman is on stage for nearly all 80 minutes of the production, often being paired down to him and one other actor for quick conflict resolution between characters. He is nimble in his speech and quickly delivers the tongue twisting dialogue with ease.
Jack Lawson's partner, Henry Brown, is played by Jamal Gibran Sterling. Sterling plays the part of a strong, confident, well-educated black man who has worked himself up to the prestigious position he's in from a poor background quite well. When Sterling enters a scene, he's a force to be reckoned with. Unfortunately for Sterling, Henry Brown serves as a pass for Jack Lawson to say some racially insensitive things. It's sort of an “It's OK, my business partner is black” situation. He's often sent off stage to handle their client in the waiting room while Lawson deals with other issues.
One of those other issues presents itself in the form of the paralegal, Susan, played by Jaquai (Jah-'Kway) Wade. Without giving too much away, Susan is a character with motives that don't become clear until late in the play. Wade is brilliant in her physical reactions to the conversations happening around her. Each racial offense she cannot rebut, due to Susan's subordinate position in the firm, is met with equal parts restraint and loathing, both shown on Wade's face and in her posture. She too navigates the mine field of Mamet Speak expertly with only a minor slip of the tongue in the heat of an argument, calling a white man “black man.”
The accused Charles Strickland is played by Dallas Morning News' “Dallas' Busiest Actor” Cameron Cobb. In an underutilized role, Cobb is kept off stage for much of the production. Strickland is more of a convenient plot device, there to provide inciting action and plot twists with no real character. He's defensive and nervous, which Cobb plays perfectly, but doesn't give the audience any reason to care for his character.
Technically, Race is superb. All of the elements blend perfectly to draw the audience in so that we forget about the tiny theater we're in, where we can perpetually see every face in the audience under the lights. We are in the law office of Lawson & Brown, watching a drama unfold before our eyes.
The set is perfect. The proscenium stage is filled with the windowed wall of the office, overlooking a cityscape backdrop. Two steps lead down to the main performance area in a thrust stage arrangement centered around a large conference table. There's even a functioning coffee maker which the cast utilizes during the performance. We can see the steam rising from their cups. The common problem with thrust stages is that actors at extreme points on the stage often end up blocking the audience’s view or facing away from the audience. This production falls into these traps too often.
Practical lighting elements enhance the realism of the set, while lighting patterns of windows projected on the floor add to the illusion of a wall on the stage left side. While the Linda Blase's performance lighting is standard, the preshow/intermission lighting is vibrantly colored and interesting.
Christina Cook's costuming for Race is near perfect. She pays close attention to color theory, putting Max Hartman in strong navy blue pinstripes, Jamal Gibran Sterling in earth tones, and Jaquai Wade in neutral colors, each making a commentary on the character wearing the clothes.
Sound does not play much of a factor in the performance. Well-designed cordless phone rings play well. The best part of John M. Flores' sound design is the preshow music. In the lobby, racially motivated music like They Might Be Giants' “Your Racist Friend” set the mood. At the beginning and end of each scene jazzy refrains, like those used in many court room shows, put the audience in a legal mind frame.
Overall, Race is an enjoyable production at Kitchen Dog Theater and should be seen if you have the chance. All of the actors are excellent in their roles. However, be prepared for the usual harsh language that flies out of a David Mamet script.
Kitchen Dog Theater
The MAC, 3120 McKinney Ave., Dallas, TX 75204
Runs through December 14th
Wednesday (Dec. 4th and 11th), Thursday, Friday, Saturday at 8:00 pm, and Sunday at 2:00 pm
There are no performances on Thanksgiving, Thursday, November 28th.
Tickets are $15.00 Wednesday, Thursday, Sunday, $20.00 Friday, and $25.00 Saturday.
Pay-What-You-Can tickets are available for the first 25 people on Wednesday and Thursday. Seating is limited to 77.
For more information visit: www.kitchendogtheater.org or call 214-953-1873.