Produced by: San Jose Stage Company
Directed by: Tony Kelly
Featuring: David Arrow, L. Peter Callender, Randall King and ZZ Moor
When: October 3-28, 2012
Where: The Stage, 490 South First Street, San Jose, California
Tickets: $20-$45 (discounts for seniors, students and groups); call 408-283-7142 or visit www.thestage.org. Read Charlie McCollum's review of "Race" in the San Jose Mercury News.
"Always tell the truth. It's the easiest thing to remember," says the salesman played by Al Pacino, in a brilliant twist of irony, to another character in the 1992 film, "Glengarry Glen Ross."
The line in the film, adapted from a play written by David Mamet, is a nod to something Mark Twain said a century earlier, albeit without the trickery: "If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything."
In Mamet's 2009 play, "Race," which opened San Jose Stage Company's 30th season on Oct. 3, 2012, the Chicago playwright -- who also coined, "It's only words ... unless they're true" -- attempts to get at the truth, to lay bare what constitutes American society today, by exposing the web of deceit that envelops our daily interactions.
In "Race," a wealthy white man, David Arrow, has been accused of raping a young black woman, and a law firm must decide whether to defend him. Two seasoned lawyers -- one white and one black -- and a new recruit at the law firm, who happens to also be a young black woman, argue the points of the case, but the action quickly moves away from whether their potential client is innocent or guilty. Over the course of 90 minutes, rather than work toward a defense strategy, the characters poke at one another's prejudices and shred apart social mores.
It's a clever condemnation of the U.S. justice system that to get at the "truth," Mamet must place his legal drama behind closed doors, where the characters figuratively hang up their politically correct niceties like coats on hooks. Inside the law firm's conference room, the four characters, as if conducting their own private trial -- with the audience as jury -- place as witnesses on the stand, race relations, sex, social class, the media and gender equality, employing the stinging, fast-paced dialogue for which Mamet is known.
"Not only is it a comment on our cultural sense of diversity, but it also says something about the pace at which we live today, in the Internet age," SJSC co-founder Randall King told Triviana on Oct. 3.
The dramatist is no stranger at SJSC, which has staged three other works by Mamet, including the Tony-nominated "Glengarry Glen Ross" and "Speed-the-Plow." King credits Mamet, along with playwright Sam Shepard, for helping him "discover my process."
"It seems like they open that dark closet and let all the truth out that is the undercurrent of our lives and society," he said. "I get a charge out of doing (Mamet's) work, like a lot of actors do in the Shakespearean world."
For black law partner Henry Brown, Arrow -- who admits he had sex with the accusing woman but says it was consensual -- is guilty just for being rich and white. "Fifty years ago, you're white? Same case. Same facts. You're innocent," Brown says, implying that his idea of justice leans heavily toward revenge.
The cynical Lawson bears a more practical, less emotionally charged approach to justice. He just wants to win the case, facts be damned. As he says to Arrow at the beginning of the play, "Listen to our instructions; obey them -- and cultivate the appearance of contrition."
"(Jack Lawson)looks at everything professionally, within the strictures and how to manipulate them," said King, who plays the role of Lawson. "I don't think he considers himself a racist. He's kind of caught between two worlds -- the world of racial perspective and professional ethics -- and it blinds him."
King said working on "Race" has been an unsettling experience.
"Working on this play has disarmed me at how subtle prejudice can be," he said. "Even driving down the road and having someone cut you off and wondering who that is, and realizing, 'Oh, my God, I say things all the time that are like Jack.'
"When I first read "Race," I put it down and it chewed at me. I felt dissatisfied. I felt like I was expecting David to solve the problem for me."
Ultimately, King reasons, Mamet wrote "Race" not to solve the problem of race, but to make people more aware of the lies they tell themselves.
"I think he's saying, 'I don't think there is a right or wrong.' All you can do is be sensitive to it," said King, who moved the play, originally scheduled for later in the season, to the opening slot to coincide with the upcoming presidential election.
"It's about, we are mutually different," he said. "When we collide, that is the essence of our existence. How we collide affects things, and we need to soften our collision. We need to interact honestly and openly, and that's all it is.
"Can it happen? I don't know."
Story copyright 2012 Kevin Kelly