Sunday, February 8, 2015

Rasheeda Speaking ***

This workplace drama by Chicago playwright Joel Drake Johnson, now in previews at The New Group, is notable mainly for providing juicy roles for two fine actresses, Tonya Pinkins and Dianne Wiest, and for marking the directorial debut of Cynthia Nixon. The setting is the in-hospital office of Dr. Williams (Darren Goldstein), a surgeon who is both smug and cowardly. The two clerical jobs in the office are filled by the white Ilene (Wiest), who has been there for eight years and loves her job, and the black Jaclyn (Pinkins), who has been there for six months and does not. The doctor wants to get rid of Jaclyn for not being a team player. When Jaclyn is out for a week suffering from exposure to mysterious office toxins (racism, perhaps?), he promotes Ilene to office manager and enlists her reluctant help to find and document reasons to let Jaclyn go that will pass muster with Human Resources. He makes clear that truthfulness is not a requirement. Whether Jaclyn is really a satisfactory employee is called into question by her brusque treatment of a patient, Rose (Patricia Connolly), and her generally truculent demeanor. When she catches on to the plan to get rid of her, she fights back with mind games that threaten Ilene’s stability. The dialog is smart, but the workings of the plot are a bit repetitious and predictable. About ten minutes before the play’s actual conclusion, there is a scene that ends with the words of the title. Most of the audience thought the play had ended and acted surprised when the lights came back up for an additional scene. Since the final scene did not really add to the play’s impact, the playwright might well have ended the play one scene sooner. Although the play addresses the issue of racism, 21st century style, its various strands don’t cohere all that well. Nevertheless, I was grateful for the opportunity to enjoy such uniformly fine acting. Allen Moyer’s set looks just like many doctor’s offices I have visited and Toni-Leslie James’s costumes are apt. Aside from the problem of the false ending, Nixon’s direction is effective. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutew; no intermission.

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