E-RACE-ing One’s Indiscretions—Mamet Onstage in Chestnut Hill

By Ellen Wilson Dilks Chestnut Hill’s venerable Stagecrafters Theatre closes out their 2017—18 season with a production of David Mamet’s 2009 drama RACE. Directed by David Flagg, the play runs weekends now through June 30 at various times. David Mamet has become a fixture on the American theatre scene since 1976, when he first received acclaim for a trio of off-Broadway plays: The Duck Variations, Sexual Perversity in Chicago and American Buffalo. He won a Pulitzer Prize and received Tony nominations for Glengarry Glen Ross (1984) and Speed-the-Plow (1988). A founding member of the Atlantic Theater Company, Mamet was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame in 2002. His staccato dialogue has an edge to it and is known for being laden with obscene words. RACE is no exception. The play had its New York Broadway debut on November 16, 2009 and ran until August 2010, under the direction of Mamet himself.  In interviews, the author stated that play’s “theme is race and the lies we tell each other on the subject.” Wealthy businessman Charles Strickland has been charged with rape based on accusations by a young black woman. Insisting he’s innocent, Strickland quickly enlists his friend Jack Lawson, a well-known criminal attorney to defend him. Lawson agrees only after he determines the case is winnable, enlisting new-hire Susan (who happens to be black) to assist he and his partner Henry Brown (also black). The lawyers focus on the flaws in the police reports—primarily the statements of the hotel manager and the maid. All three lawyers become convinced that the credibility of the reports cannot withstand questioning in the courtroom and feel that their client will be exonerated. Soon, however, things begin to unravel… Director Flagg has gathered a solid cast: Wendi Smith is a measured Susan, leaving the viewer uncertain what her feelings are until the end. Ms. Smith imbues her with youth and righteousness, wanting justice to be served. Andre Ezeugwu is bombastic as attorney Henry Brown, yet he manages to hint at an altruistic aspect to this man. Charles Hoffman has the thankless role of Charles Strickland—a typical male who just doesn’t see what the issue is. Hoffman handles it well, getting the viewer’s sympathy initially. As shark/lawyer Jack Lawson, Jeff Ragan captures all the qualities we’ve come to associate with a criminal attorney—the truth isn’t important, it’s can we win. Ragan spits out Mamet’s dialogue with relish. Flagg’s direction, assisted by Jen Allegro, is tight, revealing each of the three scenes smoothly, pulling the audience in. The action unfolds on Maria Nappo’s wonderfully succinct set that instantly evokes the conference of many a law firm. Gilbert Todd lights everything appropriately, Bill Bansbach’s soundscape sets the perfect mood. Susan Flagg costumes the cast in just the right corporate looks. The acting, directing and technical aspects are all strong, I’m just not sure I care for the play. In his directorial note, Mr. Flagg says RACE is a play about “change and the lack of change in our country.” He also feels it asks the question “How many times can a man turn his head and pretend he just doesn’t see.” Race has been a hot-button topic in this country for ages; it was lurking in the nation’s underbelly for quite some time, the controversial candidacy of Barack Obama brought it to the fore. The candidacy and election of Trump seemed to “unleash the Kraken” as it were. White supremacists, misogynists and homophobes now feel entitled to spread their hate.  So much has changed since 2009, when RACE was written, that I feel it misses the mark now. One watches as these two experienced attorneys—and one freshly-minted one—hash out the semantics and minutia of the case. The fact that the victim is African-American isn’t totally germane. The real problem is the cluelessness of the accused. Mamet’s works are so testosterone laden that the rape of a young woman tends to get lost in the shuffle of the story. Mamet uses the crime as a means to an end as he has the lawyers spinning the story to their client’s advantage. In this age of #MeToo, it’s off-putting. Mamet seems to glory in crude, rough “maleness.” He seems to be of the “boys will be boys” ilk. It is a well-known fact that he hates political correctness, and his writing reflects that more and more. And yet, many in American theatre think he is one of the greatest. The bloom is off the rose for me at least. That having been said, Stagecrafters has mounted a robust production, utilizing four excellent actors. If nothing else, the viewer is left thinking… WHEN YOU GO: The Stagecrafters Theatre is located at 8130 Germantown Avenue in the Chestnut Hill section of Philadelphia. The theatre is fully handicapped accessible, but parking is not permitted on the property. Patrons with mobility issues may be dropped off at the venue’s door. RACE continues this weekend, with performances as follows: June 23 @ 2pm** and 8pm; June 24 @ 2pm and June 28, 29, 30 @ 8pm 2018. The running time is 1 hour and 45 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission. Information and tickets are available by either visiting the theatre’s website @ www.thestagecrafters.org or by calling 215-247-9913.   READ MORE

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

You asked, he delivered! Andre Ezeugwu, back on stage!

Voodoo Macbeth Directed by Bob Devin Jones The time has finally come…. André Ezeugwu is making his Florida debut back to the stage as the Sergeant/Porter in this amazing production of Voodoo Macbeth, working with some amazing people!! The Studio@620 honors the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s legacy with “Voodoo Macbeth”, inspired by Orson Welles’ historic 1936 production. For those unfamiliar, the play centers on a brave Scottish general named Macbeth who receives a prophecy from a trio of witches that one day he will become King of Scotland. An all African American cast directed by Bob Devin Jones, will include local notables Sharon Scott*, Kylin Brady, Nadine Smith, James L. Lincoln, and Cranstan Cumberbatch, and features Erica Sutherlin as Lady Macbeth and Calvin M. Thompson* as Macbeth. A soundscape composed of percussion and live sound effects and a creative installation of the set by artist Ya La Ford will add to this unique dramatization! Proceeds from the Opening Night Performance will fund an educational component, taking Shakespeare into local high schools. For this reason red member tickets will not be accepted on Opening Night. MATINEE PERFORMANCES: Sundays April 9, 16, and 23 and Saturday April 15 at 3:00 PM EVENING PERFORMANCES: Thursdays April 13 and 20 at 7:00 PM Fridays April 14 and 21 at 7:00 PM Saturday April 22 at 7:00 PM A limited number of Red Member Tickets will be accepted for these performances with advanced reservations. To RSVP Please call The Studio@620 Office, 727-895-6620. Red Member Tickets will not be accepted for the Opening Night performance. *Indicates that a performer appears courtesy of Actors Equity, Inc.   Erica Sutherlin, Lady appears as Lady Macbeth Calvin M. Thompson appears as Macbeth Dundu Dole Urban African Ballet will add their musical talents   Special thanks to these additional sponsors: Duke Energy Bob Glaser William Lorenzen Smith and Associates Real Estate David and Astrid Ellis Charles D. Farber Memorial Foundation   THE CAST James L. Lincoln (Duncan/Porter) Calvin M. Thompson (Macbeth) Erica Sutherlin (Lady Macbeth) Satchel Dennis (Macduff) Nancy Mizzell (Lady Macduff/Lennox) Cranstan Cumberbatch (Malcom) Nadine Smith (Ross) Phillip Rankin (Seyton) Sharon Scott (Hecate) Kylin Brady (Witch) Jai Shanae (Witch) Audrey Love (Witch) Andre Ezeugwu (Porter/Sergeant) Elijah Dixon  (Macduff’s Son) Chris Kelly (Fleance/Young Siward) Thomas Morgan (Banquo/Ghost of Banquo/Old Siward)   THE CREW Bob Devin Jones (Director) Samuel Benson (Stage Manager) Tyler Weiss (Propmaster) Sheila Cowley (Dramateur) Ya Laford ( Envrionmental Painter) Saidah Ben Judah (Costumes) Jai Hinson (Choreographer) Jesse Vance (Light Design) Richard Usher (School Outreach) Dan Granke (fight choreographer) Fanni Green (vocal and dialect coach) James Olson (set design) Zulu (set design)