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Theater Review: Bold, Superb ‘Race’ On Stage At TheatreWorks

Published: March 08, 2019 at 04:30 pm

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NEW MILFORD — An explosive conversation about race is on stage in TheatreWorks New Milford’s production of David Mamet’s Race, a play about the multitude of racial elements involved in a single crime.

This story lays bare the challenges of fully comprehending the intricacies and complexities of race relations on every level. Directed by Francis A. Daley, this bold effort is loaded with conflict and continuous efforts at resolution and understanding, both of which are just out of reach.

Charles Strickland (played by understudy Francis A. Daley, usually played by Will Jeffries) has allegedly committed an unspeakable crime, for which he has been charged. He seeks the counsel of a law firm helmed by biracial partners Jack Lawson (Aaron Kaplan) and Henry Brown (Kevin Knight).

Questions regarding Strickland’s motivation for selecting this particular law firm swirl. The supposed perpetrator’s substantial wealth could, in fact, purchase the aid of a far more prestigious outfit. Yet the optics provided by representation by a team of both black and white attorneys seem far more likely to gain favor with a jury — or will it?

Associate lawyer Susan (Danique Ashley) has her own opinions and agenda at work. The three lawyers struggle to come to a place of cohesion as their histories, sexes, and races shred any semblance of unity.

Aaron Kaplan has created an impressive resume of Mamet performances, and he excels every time. This performance is, in fact, one of his very best.

Carefully calibrating his character’s emotional intensity as he tries to navigate the inevitable land mines of obvious and implied racism, Kaplan skillfully avoids the trap of rage, deftly portraying frustration, confusion, and guilt. It can be hard to find subtlety in Mamet’s work, but this actor does.

Comprehending racism as only one who has been on the receiving end can, Kevin Brown has elegantly imbued his character with wisdom, anger, kindness, and hostility, all of which he weaves together as facts and feelings erupt in the conference room. His Henry understands; he may forgive, but he never forgets. This is a rich performance.

The young and impressively resourceful Susan is well played by Danique Ashley. Her Susan is an obviously keen listener who processes information instantly and acts decisively.

This performer supplies her character with a quiet determination born out of her understanding of her place in this little legal hierarchy as well as the world at large. Ms Ashley is very good in this role.

Kudos to Director Francis A. Daley for filling in for Mr Jeffries in a recent performance. He nailed it. He gave a solid performance, capturing the essence of a man who is wracked with guilt for a life lived well above the racial fray, leaving him bereft of any capacity to understand the ramifications of his actions.

This is a well-executed and superbly performed production of a play, which while particularly relevant in this time, trains its lens on a conversation that begs to be undertaken honestly and often.

Performances continue through March 16, with curtain Friday and Saturday at 8 pm and Sunday, March 10, at 2 pm. Tickets are $25 adults, $20 students and senior citizens, and available by calling 860-350-6863 or visiting theatreworks.org.

The theater notes the play has “very strong language and controversial themes.”

 

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