RACE Opens Eyes and Minds at The Stagecrafters Theater

By: Ginger Agnew B SHARP’S STUDIO 6 When mounting a play written by one of America’s predominant playwrights, David Mamet, it is imperative to assure the artistic team is true to the author’s intent. With RACE it is tricky to distinguish what is and is not true, but the production at Stagecrafters Theater is true to the script. The difficulty is to decide what is right and just. The action takes place inside the well appointed room of a law firm’s inner sanctum. The team discusses the case and decisions are made as to whether to take on a client accused of rape. Once the determination is made, the case is dissected, as is the nature of the strategy for winning. The guilt or innocence of the client is secondary to the conversation. Prominent in the storytelling is the relationship between the lawyers, the client and accuser, and the way that race plays into all of those relationships. RACE is a biting, fast-paced hard look at a struggle that permeates the American landscape. Each member of the small cast is authentic and breathes life into a character who has a strong and believable point of view. While the motives seemingly shift, and tensions definitely shift throughout, each player brings presence and believability to their role. As one partner in a law firm Jeff Ragan plays Jack Lawson, a Caucasian lawyer who seems to be in charge of the firm. Lawson brings to light the dichotomous thinking and actions of a man who is gifted with white privilege but doesn’t realize when he is using it to his advantage while usurping the rights of those surrounding him. It sneaks insidiously into his attempt at winning the case at all costs. Ragan’s character is likable at the outset but sinks into a quagmire of his upbringing. The character arc is clear, deliberate, strong, and startling while the character deteriorates before the eyes of the audience and his co-workers. Andre Ezeugwu portrays Henry Brown a senior partner in the firm, and a black man. Nobody is left to wonder about the strategy of having a man of color on the team. The accused seeks out the firm for that very reason. Ezeugwu is also likable as the conflicted and never complacent counsel. Brown blows holes in the stories that are told by everyone around him. Ezeugwu takes on the tricky role of the omniscient with dignity and strength. When his character is standoffish or angry, Ezeugwu’s choices create exactly the atmosphere of doubt that is his frustration and his strength. Wendi Smith is Susan, a recently hired young lawyer fresh out of an Ivy League law school. Smith’s character arc is the screw that turns the story. Smith begins as a quiet and agreeable associate. The fact that she is a woman of color is not lost on the partners, the client or the value of the story. Smith creates a character who is a girl exploding into womanhood. The nature of the crime becomes too real for the character and Smith plays a brilliant hand of poker. Charles Hoffman portrays Charles Strickland who is accused of the crime. Hoffman makes sure the character is everything it needs to be to balance the action. Compelled to think about the nature of race relations, how crimes are committed, rationalized, defended, and solved is at the core of the story. At the heart of the story one questions the who, why, and how of the perpetrator, and the way we rationalize our own actions. The set is impeccably built and decorated. Costumes are just right to help tell the story. David Flagg’s direction tells the story clearly but allows plenty of room for the audience to think and then continue the discussion. RACE By David Mamet Directed by David Flagg The Stagecrafters 8130 Germantown Ave. Philadelphia, PA 19118 June 15-30, 2018 Info: 215-247-9913 www.thestagecrafters.org READ MORE

Sex, guilt and race all factors in thriller on Hill stage

by Rita Charleston “Race,” a provocative tale of sex, guilt and wild-eyed allegations, is the final production of the season at Stagecrafters, 8130 Germantown Ave., running through June 30. The thriller by multi-award winning playwright David Mamet focuses on two partners in a law firm known for getting their clients off the hook. In this case, they have to defend a man whose sexual transgression overlaps with a violation of an unwritten racial code. “Race” premiered on Broadway in December, 2009. Mamet has said that the “intended theme is race and the lies we tell each other on the subject.” In the play, a racially-charged sexual assault has occurred which leads to charges brought against Charles Strickland, a wealthy resident in his town who engages the two lawyers — one black (Henry Brown) and one white (Jack Lawson) — to defend him. The two attorneys have been partners for 20 years, although Lawson soon begins to rely on help from a young black attorney he calls Susan. Although originally wary about taking the case, their associate Susan makes two elementary legal errors which force their hand. Soon the question arises as to whether Susan is a victim of discrimination or the product of affirmative action. Starring in the role of Henry Brown, is Paterson, N.J., native, Andre Ezeugwu, the oldest of four children and an imposing figure at 6-foot-1 and 280 pounds. This play, directed by David Flagg, marks the debut at Stagecrafters for the actor who just turned 30 and now lives in Northeast Philly. “But I have performed in the area before, notably at the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill,” Ezeugwu explains. Excelling in both acting and music, Ezeugwu won the Governor’s Award in Arts Education in 2006, as well as numerous awards at The Speech and Theatre Association of New Jersey competition and New Jersey Thespian Festival. He went on to attend Albright College, graduating with a BA in Theatre and Music. Additionally, he was nominated for the Irene Ryan Acting Scholarship at the Kennedy Center American College, and has appeared in and produced local short films along with his onstage skills. “I’ve always loved acting and playing the piano, but eventually acting won out,” he says. “So today, I’m doing mostly theater work and short films, although to pay my bills every month, I work in radio sales as an advertising executive. I’m especially enjoying doing this role in this Mamet play. Mamet is usually pretty preachy but not this time. With this play he brings the problem to your notice but won’t give you a band-aid to put on it. He doesn’t draw any conclusions for you but lets you draw your own conclusions at the end of the play.” However, Ezeugwu isn’t afraid of voicing his own opinions. “I think we all have our own prejudices and how those prejudices manifest themselves. If we stay in our own circles or live in our own bubbles, we may constantly live with stereotypes and never learn how to see things differently. I do believe that’s the major message in this play, and I’m so happy to be a part of it.” For the near future, Ezeugwu plans to head to New York and begin auditioning. “Who knows what the future holds?” For reservations call 215-247-9913. You can read Hugh Hunter’s review of “Race” on www.chestnuthilllocal.com.   READ MORE

A compelling, suspenseful drama, ‘Race,’ on Hill stage

by Hugh Hunter When it comes to the question of race, our 200-year national theater has gone full circle. After a long history of ignoring the role race plays in American life, modern day theater is now preoccupied with its importance. In “Race” (2009), now running at Stagecrafters, playwright David Mamet tosses his penny into the pond. The plot is stereotypically simple. Charles Strickland, a wealthy white man, stands accused of raping a young black woman in a hotel room. The law firm of Lawson and Brown struggles to decide if it wants to accept the case. Evidence to support Strickland’s guilt and innocence is uncovered, and along the way attitudes about race are laid bare. Stagecrafters veteran Jeff Ragan gives the show much of its life. Playing the role of Jack Lawson, a conflicted white lawyer, Ragan masters Mamet’s staccato, confrontational patter. Jack is a complicated person. Though he operates on the cynical view that you only take cases you can win, this gamester also harbors positive beliefs he himself is reluctant to recognize. As the lawyers puzzle over the question of Strickland’s guilt, hidden ideas about race on the part of Jack and his two black associates also come into the open. Andre Ezeugwu plays law firm partner Henry Brown, a veteran lawyer who is both jaundiced and full of good will. Wendi Smith plays Susan, bringing an air of ingenue to the young intern. While Charles Hoffman turns Strickland into such a punching bag, you tend to sympathize with the accused. Director David Flagg’s impressive stage (set design and set decor, Maria Nappo) embodies the contradictions and ambiguities of the lawyers. Reference bookcases flank a fireplace with perfect symmetry. But over the mantel an oil painting with mysterious, shapeshifting figures is like an evil eye, casting doubt on the vision of orderly justice. The Stagecrafters production holds your attention. The script is a bit mannered, a string of one-upmanship scenes. Sometimes, a little plot twist is milked to the max: “You said what! … (dramatic pause) …You said what!” Still, director Flagg’s brisk pace, along with his set and strong acting, keep you engaged. It is a stretch to think “Race” adds much to the national dialogue. As the play hurries to its end, each unpredictable plot turn serves to expose some attitude about race that a character has been hiding. Yet none of these discoveries is especially remarkable or affecting. The Stagecrafters show succeeds at the level of mystery story. “Race” is suspenseful. But on the message, race relations side you have heard all this before. I came away with the sneaky feeling that “Race” is cashing in on current theatrical trends and that, like his lawyer Jack, Mamet is taking a case he knows he can win. Stagecrafters is located at 8130 Germantown Ave. “Race” will run through June 30. Tickets available at 215-247-8881 or www.thestagecrafters.org. READ MORE