Toward the end of
That's what Mamet's one-act play is about, too. And like a thesis, it comes across as an academic exercise. "Race" poses a series of questions and a volley of ideas thrown around by four less than fully developed characters.
Under the direction of Thomas Ouellette, the Shakes' simple production does little to make Mamet's characters people of flesh and blood; they remain mouthpieces for the playwright's points.
Luckily, Mamet's points are constantly thought-provoking and sometimes surprising.
As "Race" opens, a rich white man approaches a team of two lawyers — one black, one white — to represent him. He has been charged with raping a young black woman. The lawyers have an assistant, also a young black woman, and the three each bring a different viewpoint to the case.
This means lots of statements like "You wanna tell me about black folks?" or "It's a complicated world filled with misunderstanding."
"You're white," a lawyer spits at the defendant. "Is that a crime?" he rejoins.
Even as their characters remain ciphers, Richard B. Watson and
Watson has the showier role, enraged at one moment, triumphant the next, and he paints a convincing portrait of a man who thought he understood society's rules — until they begin to work against him.
Stella Heath, as the young legal assistant, has a more mysterious role that at the start comes across more as dull than enigmatic. Heath's character of Susan comes into her own late in the game, but without knowing her character's background, her transformation lacks the resonance it might otherwise have.
As the accused man, Jim Ireland has a haunted look but too rarely shows the self-assuredness that a life of wealth and privilege imbues on a person.
Bert Scott's handsome set design doesn't give any clue to these characters either. Even the art on the lawyers' office wall is institutional-looking.
Legal buffs will like the behind-the-scenes look at the wheels of justice as the lawyers plot their strategy for winning the case. And there is certainly food for thought here about how we judge others, hide our secret biases, or find our attitudes shaped by our backgrounds, whether we know it or not.
But at play's end, the audience departs without really knowing these characters — or fully understanding why they've done what they did.
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• What: An Orlando Shakespeare Theater production of a David Mamet play
• Length: 90 minutes, no intermission
• Where: Lowndes Shakespeare Center, 812 E. Rollins St., Orlando
• When: 2 and 7 p.m. Wednesdays, 7 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; through Nov. 11
• Tickets: $17-$40
• Call: 407-447-1700