Marking the first time that actor/director Lauren Kennedy has directed her Tony-nominated husband Alan Campbell in a play, Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy in downtown Raleigh is currently featuring Race, a play by contemporary American playwright David Mamet. Race is the third show of the season, and is one which certainly does not shy away from controversial topics.
First of all, what I love most about seeing a show at the Kennedy Theatre is the personal introduction from Lauren Kennedy herself. It’s those personal touches that make visits to smaller theater venues all the more enjoyable.
Race was first produced on Broadway in 2009, and follows three lawyers and one defendant as they navigate a racially charged rape case and confront their own views about race in America, which is, as Mamet says, “the most incendiary topic in our history.” The playwright, David Mamet, won a Pulitzer Prize for his 1984 play Glengarry Glen Ross, and is widely known for his unique writing style and penchant for controversial topics and use of language that can be described as colorful at the very least. The overarching theme of this play is twofold. First – what are people allowed to say about race? Second – what constitutes guilt?
The set in the Kennedy Theatre could be any upscale law firm conference room in any city in America, with a conference table, rolling desk chairs, and a waiting area. It is familiar and detailed, as it should be. The most interesting detail is the large set of frosted glass windows, through which the audience can see shadows of people on the other side. The props add to the feel of corporate America, and (thankfully for purists like myself), there’s real coffee in that carafe on stage. In fact, the most important item in the show is something which we never even see: a very important red sequined dress.
Campbell shines in the role of lawyer Jack Lawson, and the entire cast does well under Kennedy’s direction. The actors, dressed in fancy suits, are bold in their ability to tackle big issues head-on. Perhaps the real tension in the play is not between the actors, but within each audience member as they face their feelings about race in what is referred to as the trifecta of hatred, fear, and envy. The discomfort factor is tangible, but don’t be turned away by that – it sparked deep conversations among patrons, which I heard continuing outside the theater doors.
Race runs through August 5. For tickets and more information, visit www.hotsummernightsatthekennedy.com.