Pulitzer Prize winning playwright David Mamet’s Race, which premiered on Broadway in 2009, flays open the issue of racial prejudice in today’s society with Mamet’s characteristically pointed wit and frank honesty. Fortunately, director Lauren Kennedy, artistic director of Hot Summer Nights | Theatre Raleigh (HSN|TR), had a vision for her cast that was equally as sharp. 

The one act play opens with a rapid-fire dialogue between attorneys Jack Lawson (HSN|TR’s executive director Alan Campbell) and Henry Brown (Eric Pinnick) and their potential client Charles Strickland (David McClutchey). Charles, a wealthy white businessman, has been accused of raping a young black prostitute and seeks representation from legal partners Lawson, who is white, and Brown, who is black. With the input from their assistant, Susan (Lormarev Jones), the men deliberate the inevitable hopelessness of taking the case. When Susan’s actions obligate the firm to become Strickland’s attorneys, Race explores every angle of racial tension between black and white Americans today.

Clean, clear designs from set and lighting designers Rick Young and Chris Bernier allowed the complete tone of the piece to be delivered at the hands of the actors. Young’s crisp lines in the office of Lawson and Brown informed the masculinity of the space, and Bernier’s minimal, but pivotal, lighting cues highlighted important shifts in power as the plot progressed. Campbell’s bravado as Jack Lawson and Pinnick’s no-nonsense approach to Brown made for a biting and self-aware pair to contrast McClutchey’s white and naïve Strickland. If the cast pushed the pace too quickly at first to account for the lack of intermission, by the time Susan, whose strength and wit are artfully developed by Jones, and Jack Lawson exchange in their confrontation, they had developed a rhythm to appropriately land Mamet’s characteristic bluntness with razor-sharp clarity.

This HSN|TR production of Race asks no questions and provides no answers; Lauren Kennedy and her cast simply lay out a stark commentary on racial awareness and prejudice in every form. Whether audiences appreciate the honesty, share the guilt of the characters, or squirm under Mamet’s scrutiny of a controversial subject, they need not fear leaving the theater without feeling some reaction to Race.

Race continues its run at the Kennedy Theater through August 5th.  For details, see the sidebar.