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Race

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A David Mamet play is always cerebral, generally provocative, and often leads one to debate issues raised in the storyline at the conclusion of the production. Moreover, its craftsmanship is to be admired.

This play purports to be about race, and it is, but it also examines  issues of gender and conscience. It places four characters in a handsome law office (scenic design by Jeffery P. Eisenmann) and delivers a story that unfolds layer by layer.

Jack Lawson (Chris Bauer) and his partner Henry Brown (Dominic Hoffman) are interviewing a prospective client, Charles Strickland (Jonno Roberts), who has been charged with rape. He is white and his victim is black, exactly the makeup of the two lawyers. Also in the office is a young black woman, Susan (DeWanda Wise), who appears to be listening to the byplay, at first on the sidelines, but as the play progresses she figures more prominently in the narrative.

Strickland is prominent and wealthy, a fact that affords him the luxury  of choosing these prominent lawyers. Is he guilty? Do we care? Are we more interested in the evolution of the problem rather than the tricky moral issues? That may be the disconnect that makes this play a bit hollow. In only a few spots are there any passionate moments.

Mamet is a master of trenchant dialogue meant to be delivered in a crisp, sometimes witty manner. This play is no exception, and there are some great lines-- not revealed here for fear of spoiling the dramatic impact.

As much as one hopes for  vintage Mamet--Glengarry Glen Ross, Speed-the-Plow--this falls short, even though it has elements that could elevate it given more dramatic charisma.

Bauer delivers a strong and effective central character, a mixture of enterprising self-assuredness, leadership, and ambition. Hoffman's character, largely neglected by Mamet, still manages to flesh out his character as effectively as the play allows.

On the minus side, director Scott Zigler has his work cut out for him trying to make Strickland and Susan more than one-dimensional. We are on alert from the start that Susan is going to gum up the works in a room full of men. While Susan feels herself a victim, she is oddly restrained even after the turn of events that places her front and center. Though she is purported to be a lawyer, she feels more like a dramatic contrivance. Interestingly, Mamet names his male character fully, but Susan is not given that distinction.

On balance, the play is engaging and is as topical as today’s newspaper. The playwright has the opportunity to create a microcosm in which the human condition is examined. In that sense, it is a worthy endeavor.

Race at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, 9820 Washington Blvd. Culver City. Tues-Sat at 8. Sun at 2 and 8. $25-55. Tickets at www.centertheatregroup.org.

 

Spotlight

Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”

ABOUT ELLEN RICHARD

Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.