There comes a point in David Mamet’s play, “Race,” in which a black female attorney tells her white male associate, “This isn’t about sex, it’s about race.” To this the man responds, “What’s the difference?”
Charles LaBorde, director for Carolina Actors Studio Theatre (CAST), will bring this play to Charlotte on Thursday, Feb. 23rd, 2012, and he thinks this is a very explanatory piece of dialogue.
So much so that he has the page number of the script memorized (page 36) and flips to it as one would look at their watch.
“On the surface it’s a sort of simple play but it’s actually very complex,” said LaBorde.
The play revolves around the case of a white billionaire tycoon (“a Richard Branson type”) who has been charged with the rape of a black woman.
Two high-priced male attorneys are hired for the case.
The case takes its toll on a strong relationship between the two attorneys; one black and one white.
In classic “12 Angry Men” style, the entire play takes place within the boardroom of the law firm, with only four characters: the two lawyers, the accused and the female lawyer mentioned above, brought in later to help with the case.
The play will take place in a small theater within the CAST studio on N. Davidson Street and E. 28th Street (the same shopping center as Amelie’s).
The play is also done “in the round,” which means the audience will be surrounding the characters, with members in the front row sitting within two feet of the table.
“That’s really an exciting thing for the audience but also for the actors,” said LaBorde. “To have the audience that close you sort of feel the synergy between the two. It’s a play that, within that space, you have nowhere to hide, and with a play this shocking it will be interesting to have the audience that close.”
The play hits hard not only because of the controversial themes of the plot itself, but the electric dialogue that Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Mamet is known for.
“Typical of Mamet, the language is very adult and rough,” said LaBorde. “Most people associate Mamet with extreme profanity and constant profanity, which is the case, but not quite as frequent as in most of his plays. It’s still shocking.”
However, this play goes beyond just swearing for shock value. “The way he gets it up to his typical level of in-your-faceness is that he adds the racial aspect,” LaBorde said.
“A lot of the racial stuff that gets thrown around, you just don’t hear people in most polite company talk frankly about the issues in the play the way they do in this play.”
It is this issue that lies at the heart of the play, speaking to audiences who like to believe they live in a post-Obama, and therefore post-racial, world.
Mamet was once quoted as saying that the theme of “Race” is race itself but also “the lies we tell each other.”
“I think [racism] is still very much there,” said LaBorde. “I think we’d like to think that we as a society are past that but I really feel that it is something that is difficult for Americans to get past.”
It’s by tapping into these hidden emotions that this play starts to peel back the layers of the characters’ subconscious and becomes more complex.
“Even though it talks frankly and a lot of people in the play have worked closely and been close friends for a long time, they see things differently in the play,” said LaBorde.
When people begin to see things differently, the play’s unofficial motto, “Everybody lies,” begins to take effect.
LaBorde developed the catch phrase from a line of script said in passing by one of the pay’s characters.
“We talked in rehearsals about how the different characters lie: some overtly, some less obviously, some to themselves, some to the other people, but they’ve all got one version or another of lies.”
The play will run until March 24th and, as usual for a CAST play, will engage the audiences as soon as they walk in the door. Tickets will be made to look like tabloid magazines with the defendant’s face splattered on their fronts and the entrance of the theater will be made to look like the lobby of a law firm.