Close this search box.

well established and here for you

independently owned and operated since 1977

Let’s Talk About Talking About Race

by Rebecca M. Alvin

David Mamet is a playwright no one could ever accuse of shying away from controversial subject matter. Over the course of his more-than-40-year career, his plays have addressed racism, misogyny, homophobia, rape (of both male and female characters), fraud, and the power dynamics in intimate relationships. Often, characters are vulgar and hostile and behave in abhorrent ways, but it is Mamet’s writing itself that is often the most jarring in works like Edmund, Sexual Perversity in Chicago, and Oleanna. He is unrelentingly both brilliant and problematic.

Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater (WHAT) has chosen to produce Mamet’s 2009 play Race under the direction of Jackie Davis, a teaching artist at Trinity Repertory Theatre in Providence, R.I., founding artistic director of New Urban Theater Laboratory in Boston, and an accomplished actress and director. Davis says when WHAT artistic director Christopher Ostrom asked her to do it, “I said yes because I had seen it before, performed. (I had not read the script.) And I remember when I saw it there were times when I leaned forward and times when I sat back and kind of scratched my head.”

Race is set in a law office where law partners Jack, who is white, and Howard, who is black, are asked to defend a wealthy white man (Charles) accused of raping a black woman. We are then introduced to Susan, their black female law partner, and a very interesting thing happens. Mamet’s play about race becomes a play about sexual politics. At the same time, in classic Mamet style, the play isn’t so much about either of those things as it is about how people talk about those things.

“The play is called ‘Race.’ Do I really think he addresses the issue? I don’t know. I really mean that. I don’t think it’s a real sit-down conversation on race. I think they touch on dynamics of how we weave our way around certain issues, but a lot of this play and this case strikes more [Brett] Kavanaugh-ish to me. It leans more on misogyny and structural misogyny,” says Davis. “And I’m curious, one question that I asked myself was, when David Mamet was writing this play, was he writing it for Jack, but somehow inadvertently made it about Susan in the last scene?”
Without giving away the whole story, throughout the play, the lawyers struggle with first whether or not to take the case at all and second, how to prove Charles’ innocence. In that process, we start to wonder if they are just lawyers building a case to protect their client, or if they truly believe the man is innocent—something that becomes increasingly difficult as more and more is revealed. Meanwhile, Susan’s perspective becomes incredibly important.

For the cast, as well as for Davis, the questions Mamet’s writing raises are challenging on many levels. “In the [rehearsal] room questions come up. And some I can answer, some I can go around in a circle until they figure it out for themselves, and there are others where I’m like, ‘You know, ma’am, that’s a David Mamet question. I don’t have his number,” Davis laughs.

Davis, who is a black woman, acknowledges that Mamet, being white and male, is an important aspect of how it is written. But also, Mamet’s style of writing can be challenging to work with in order to get at what he really means, what his characters are really saying, etc. “As a director, this play is very heady, right? And it’s a lot of three people talking. So my challenge with it is to make sure we get the pacing down. He has a lot of pauses and ellipses, and my challenge with our re-telling of this story is to make sure we have a command of the language and of the text, and that we earn those pauses because every playwright is very specific. If it is there, it means something, and for Susan, who has the least amount of text, it’s finding how those pauses, what they mean for her in the world,” Davis explains.

One of the more difficult aspects of the play is the way in which Susan is treated by the male lawyers. “I saw a couple of things where she’s referred to as a legal assistant. She’s an associate in the firm, she’s not their secretary,” Davis clarifies. And yet, she is spoken down to, belittled, and mansplained to at every turn, which can make the just 10-year-old play seem dated.
“What blows my mind is this play was written in 2009, and there’s no way that we can present this play as it is today, because the times they have changed so much. There is no way that anyone would look at this play and say this is happening in an office in 2019, the way that they talk to her, the way that they brush over her, some of the language,” Davis says. “In just a short period of time [the difference between] what is acceptable and not acceptable is so huge. But at the same time Kavanaugh is still on the Supreme Court, so let’s talk about it.”

Race by David Mamet is currently in previews through June 6 at 7:30 p.m. The play will run from June 7 – 28 at 8 p.m. at WHAT, 2357 Rte. 6, Wellfleet. Opening night, Friday, June 7, there is a 7 p.m. pre-show raw bar with champagne toast, and a post-show reception, as well. Tickets ($25 – $39 with student and senior discounts available) are available at the theater box office, by calling 508.349.9428, or online at

Recent Posts

Sign up for our Newsletter

Scroll to Top

Sign up for our Newsletter

Graphic Artist

Ginger Mountain

Ginger Mountain (MS Communications Media, BA Fine Arts/Teaching Certification K-12) has been part of the graphic design team at Provincetown Magazine since 2008. Ginger has worked as a creative director, individual contractor, and freelance designer with clients representing many areas —business software, consumer products, professional services, entertainment, and network hardware to name just a few — providing creative layout and development of a wide range of print media content. Her clients ranged from small local businesses to large corporations and Fortune 500 companies, from New Hampshire to Georgia

Keep in touch

Fill in your details and I will get back to you in no time.

Phone: + 1 508-487-1000 ext 6
[email protected] 14 Center St. Provincetown MA, 02657