By David Mamet
Directed by Thomas Ouellette
Starring Richard B Watson, Henry Brown
Orlando Shakespeare Theatre, Orlando FL
After this intense hour, I don’t think it’s safe to talk to black people anymore. I never knew there were so many ways to offend, and God forbid you try friendly banter – it’s a mind field. Or so implies David Mamet, he is known for pushing some limits on stage. This little firecracker of a show takes a look at race relation in this postmodern century, and while lynching is down, lawsuits are up. Well-off Charlie Strickland (Jim Ireland) is shopping for lawyers to defend his high profile rape case. Now, he may have been giving her money, and they may have done it a few times before, but tonight something goes wrong, the check bounces, and the cry of “rape!” brings a sheaf of paper work from the maid, the cop, the floor manager of the hotel and a lead headline in the local kiss and tell tabloid. Strickland has already fired (or been fired) by the Jewish lawyer, but the firm of Lawson and Brown maybe a better match: Jack Lawson (Watson) is white and high pressure, Henry Brown (Cobb) is slightly black and adds credibility. After all, the accuser is black, so this firm offers a nice neat package tied up with apprentice Susan (Stella Heath). She’s both black and female, and conveniently the same dress size as the accuser. Lawson suggests dressing her in that red sequined smock and ripping it off in court, somehow she thinks this is a bit much. Is she tired of the White Man’s oppression, or does she just lack the blood thirsty streak this game takes?
There’s a lot more, of course and I will say I thought Mr. Watson was going to blow a gasket more than once. He’s intense and monomaniacal, just as the role requires and no matter what his politics, I’d have him defend me in a heartbeat. Mr. Cobb’s roll is more level and good counter balance to Lawson, and he’s a guy who comes up with a few good ideas on his own. As Susan, Ms. Heath is more subtle, she’s planning a longer campaign than the one that walked in the door, and I suspect she’ll make it somewhere, but not with these two guys. Ireland’s character is more ambivalent, maybe he wants a defense, but maybe he just wants the shame of redemption. That might included few years I the Crossbar Hilton, but he’s a big boy and if that what he wants he may have just walked in the right door for the wrong reason.
This show drips with brutal realism. While the black experience is the center of the show, Jews and Mexicans and just about any other noticeable minority get abused, but with no chance to defend. There’s a good bit of legal procedure in here, but if you watch TV it will all flow by effortlessly. Director Ouellette get s the best from this stellar cast, and if nothing else this should remind you – conductor your personal life to avoid dealing with the justice system. It’s a jungle on that stage as well.
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