WHAT Continues To Court Controversy With Racially-charged 35th Year Opener

By: Ellen Petry Whalen

John Kooi and Tyra Ann-Marie Wilson in “Race” at the Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theatre. MICHAEL AND SUZ KARCHMER PHOTO

David Mamet’s 2009 play “Race” doesn’t waste time sidestepping difficult topics—almost immediately posing the question, “What would you say to a black man about the subject of race?” Even though the legal drama is 10 years old, its subject matter is highly relevant today.

The fast-paced, 90-minute story focuses on Charles Strickland (Bill Mootos), a wealthy, middle-aged white man who has been accused of raping a young black woman in a hotel room. Two attorneys, the white Jack Lawson (John Kooi) and the black Henry Brown (Johnny Lee Davenport), must consider whether or not to take on Strickland’s potentially no-win case.

Not focusing on his guilt or innocence, but rather the perception of Strickland’s racially charged case, the two legal partners unveil the ugliness of the legal system and the capricious court of public opinion, insisting “the law can be induced or extorted,” and “neither side wants the truth; they want to prevail.”

The married Strickland insists he loved the woman, but a police report says she claims he ripped off her red-sequined dress and raped her, while two witnesses overheard him yell a racial epithet. The law partners explain how Strickland’s wealth and white privilege would have gotten him off the hook 50 years ago, but today, the tables are turned. To drive the point home, the African-American attorney Brown asks Strickland without pausing for a response, “Do all black people hate whites? You bet we do!”

The fourth character in the drama is the neophyte black female attorney, Susan (Mamet doesn’t seem to believe she warrants a last name, unlike her male counterparts), played by Tyra Ann-Marie Wilson. Even though the other attorneys believe Strickland could be innocent, she admits he appears guilty at first sight.

The lawyers believe they can build their case around the fact that not one red sequin was mentioned in the police report. The logic being, if the delicate gown was ripped off the woman, many would have gone flying, versus not, if the dress was unzipped with consent. Filled with many barbed one-liners, the electrified story has a few plot twists before the truth is revealed.

Director Jackie Davis brings out the best in these fine actors. As Strickland, Mootos balances his character’s martyr-like nature with his airs of wealth. Kooi takes on the role of “the good cop” attorney, explaining how the system works, while Brown doesn’t hold back, letting his voice boom when needed. Playing the sole female, Wilson holds her own, carrying herself with poise and refusing to back down when her character’s integrity is questioned.

JP Pizzuti’s set doubles as an imposing conference room and legal office. The panoramic windows that look down on the city below make the set feel all the more real, coupled with Stephen Petrilli’s subtle lighting which darkens the window, as the day progresses.

Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater is celebrating its 35th year of thought-provoking theater, and the razor-edged play “Race” is another jewel in their crown.




At Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater

Through June 28

Information and reservations: 508-349-9428