Review: David Mamet’s Race

Review: David Mamet’s Race

By Aileen Ruane

On a tous nos préjugés” says Susan to Jack Lawson during the climax of David Mamet’s Race, staged by Martine Beaulne, cynically stating one of the play’s principle themes. The plot is a complex tale of lies, sexism, and racism, eerily foreshadowing the Dominique Strauss-Kahn scandal in 2011, and providing a necessary, fascinating reflection on how we look at and talk about (or to) each other.

While a lot can be said about how and why Mamet launches into this multi-layered commentary on race relations in the USA, Beaulne’s production stands out in its own way thanks to a talented cast and a Québécois translation.

In a programme interview, Beaulne is quoted as stating that Pierre Laville’s French translation loses the rhythm and the staccato nature of Mamet’s acerbic barbs – hence the necessity of Maryse Warda’s Québécois translation, which, according to Beaulne, works naturally well for the cast. Interestingly, in spite of the distinctly Québécois translation (the dialogue is replete with là, là’s, anglicisms, and sacres), Warda does not reterritorialize the action to Quebec, instead keeping the play set in New York. This decision allows for linguistic proximity and subjective distance – while the audience was engaged and jovial during sarcastic arguments between the characters, they reacted to crass racial and sexual slurs with the kind of shock and horror that were notably subdued during Race’s Broadway premiere in 2009.

The four-person cast proved to be adept at “Mamet-speak”, both maintaining the pauses and easily navigating the punctuation. Benoît Gouin’s Jack Lawson and Frédéric Pierre’s Henri Brown give the audience the impression that they have been law partners forever, never devolving into caricatures or superficial binaries. The two actors are whip-smart, legal-eagles who never seem to lack retorts. Gouin’s Lawson never descends into sleaziness, even when suggesting that new-hire Susan should wear the infamous red-sequined dress to trial for a demonstration. Pierre’s Brown is equally audacious and slick, confidently striding about the stage and challenging Strickland at every opportunity. Gabriel Sabourin’s embattled Charles Strickland is restrained and cautious, which adds nuance to a character that may or may not be a predatory racist (and rapist). His weariness and frustration complicate his rapport with his legal team and plays against the audience’s expectations. Myriam De Verger is wonderful as the neophyte Susan, who is greatly underestimated by the rest of the characters. De Verger shows great range and subtlety, leaving the audience gasping when the “twist” arrives.

The rest of the production serves to showcase the unique translation: Richard Lacroix’s set design is clean, seeming more minimalist than stuffy legal office. Ludovic Bonnier’s atmospheric, jazz-inspired transition music lightens the mood between scenes. Daniel Fortin’s costumes are utilitarian and logical – the exception being a blunt foreshadowing moment when Susan walks into the office, wearing a bright red overcoat, which the audience reacted to with audible “ohhhhhhh’s”.

Beaulne’s production of Warda’s translation is engaging and provocative, without being over-the-top or sensational – perfect for a timely conversation on race, sex, and class that requires all parties to drop their own prejudices and instead start listening to each other.

Race was produced by Duceppe at Salle Albert-Rousseau on 25 March 2018, with a run time of 90 minutes, without intermission.

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Categories: Arts & Culture, Reviews

About Author

Aileen Ruane

Aileen Ruane is a doctoral candidate in Études littéraires at Université Laval. She received an MA in French Studies from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and a BA in Theatre Studies and French from Kent State University. Her research primarily concerns the concepts of performativity, identity, and alterity in Québécois translations of Irish theatre. She was a founding member of Blackbird Theatre Company in Chicago. She also teaches Irish dance at Violon Vert here in Quebec City.

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