Magic Time!

The random adventures of a theater buff in DC

Month: February, 2013

Race

Watching this incendiary David Mamet script performed at Theater J, I felt as though a conflagration of intense ideas and attitudes was in flames in my brain. And wow, what an engrossing experience it was.

The setup is itself a provocation. A white man is accused of raping a black woman. (Race was written a couple years before the Dominique Strauss-Kahn slimefest and eerily foreshadows it.) He arrives at a law firm seeking representation. There the lawyers—a black man, a white man, and a black woman—debate whether to take the case.  And wow, do the sparks fly.

I had to look at the playscript right after. To see how the heck Mamet did it. How he made dialogue combust. So you have to think. And squirm. And that’s how. Sentence fragments. Each one a strike-anywhere match.

The cast so “got” the explosive text that it seemed to have been whittled from flint just for them: James Whalen, Michael Anthony Williams, and Crashonda Edwards as the lawyers; Leo Erickson as the client. Perfectly paced by director John Vreeke.

In between scenes are sound-and-image montages, stunningly designed by Chris Baine and Jared Mezzocchi, that vividly evoke the history of racism in America. Underscoring this play’s inescapable point: That history ain’t over.

I admit to an admiring but love-hate relationship with David Mamet’s writing. Loved Glengarry Glen Ross, Mamet’s machismo-in-a-musky-real-estate-office epic; hated Oleanna, his equivocation about student-teacher sexual harassment.

But Race definitely goes into the “loved it” category. With a blaze of infamy and glory.

 

 

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The Motherfucker with the Hat

This is a really offbeat (and, I would argue, pretty downbeat) play. And in its new production at Studio Theatre it’s performed darn brilliantly.

It’s sort of a comedy, but sort of not. It’s got sexual infidelity and off-the-charts jealousy,  brutal betrayal of love and friendship, knockabout stage combat, addiction/recovery/relapse… Very dark stuff, but with very blue punchlines.

Playwright Stephen Adly Guirgis has created a world in which each of his five effed-up characters becomes by turns the butt of a scathing, profanity-laced “Here’s what’s wrong with you” speech from one of the others—and we the audience are expected to accept this pileup of train wrecks as entertaining behavior. Some of the cascading passages of splenetic invective  almost rose to a level of poetry, to my ears anyway—perhaps inured as they had become to the play’s repetition of the F word. Which is to say, this ain’t no TV sitcom.

I left without a clue as to what it all means. I took no comfort in witnessing five lives carom off one another only to tumble further. Nothing uplifting going on that I could discern. But I was enthralled by the virtuoso acting—which in its own way was ennobling.

Director Serge Seiden has assembled an exquisitely charismatic cast: Rosa Colón as the spitfire Veronica; Drew Cortese as her bragadocious BF Jackie, Quentin Maré as unctuously two-faced Ralph D, Gabriela Fernandez-Coffey as his exasperated wife Victoria, and Liche Ariza as would-be best bro Cousin Julio. With thrilling authority and presence, they deliver a five-star turn.

If this troupe doesn’t win a prize for best performance by an ensemble…I’ll eat my mf-ing hat.