Dramashop Presents: Race
Alex Bieler talks to Evan O?Polka, director of David Mamet's "Race."
Since it was founded back in May 2011, Dramashop has shown that theater is for more than just laughs. With a mission to "provide entertaining and provocative theatrical experiences designed to challenge and engage the Erie community," the group has presented the area with numerous shows that not only amused audiences, but also made them think.
With topics ranging from post-traumatic stress disorder ("Time Stands Still") to the importance of sex in a relationship ("In the Next Room or the vibrator play"), it is clear that Dramashop is willing to put on edgy shows that provide an important commentary on life in today's world.
"Back in the very infancy of Dramashop, we were looking around and asking, 'What's missing?'" said Evan O'Polka, director of Dramashop's upcoming mainstage show "Race." "This is important stuff that's being written today by our best living playwrights who are talking about important issues."
Much like previous shows the theater group has done, "Race," which begins its two-week Thursday, Friday, and Saturday run Jan. 17 at the Renaissance Center Theatre at 1001 State St., tackles the issue of, unsurprisingly, race.
The play, written by Pulitzer Prize-winning American playwright David Mamet, focuses on the story of two middle-aged lawyers, one white and one black, who partner up to take on a wealthy white client accused of raping a black woman.
"It's no holds barred discussing the issue of race and how it is still very prevalent in today's society," O'Polka said. "Because it's David Mamet, he doesn't hold back at all. There are lines in the show that will make you flabbergasted that anybody would ever write that on paper for an actor to say, but it's really wonderful because it is something that still should be talked about."
With a show broaching a topic that some people may find too uncomfortable to discuss, it can take the certain actors to bring out the important messages behind Mamet's words. According to O'Polka, he found the right cast, with local theater mainstays like The Rev. Shawn Clerkin, who did his Master's thesis on Mamet, Becca Coleman, Bill Williams, and Nick Kikola.
"We've done lot of talking about the issue so that we get what we're trying to get across through the characters and not our own personal thought on this, because that will sometimes happen. We're talking about things that you don't want to talk about, but when it comes to it at the end of the day, you do think about these things or talk about them in the heat of the moment," said Coleman, who plays the role of Susan, a younger lawyer who joins the other two. "The beauty of the show is that it builds and builds and builds on a very humanitarian level where it gets to that point where things are just starting to fly out of the mouth, so it's very realistic."
Some people, however, shy away from the topic. Whether it is because of general discomfort discussing the issue or a belief that modern society should be past the topic of race, people still willingly ignore important related conversations and shows discussing the subject.
"There is such a prevalence in the mind-set that we are beyond this, but then you see events in today's society and you have to say 'Are we beyond this?'" O'Polka said.
With "Race," Dramshop presents yet another show that helps us to face important issues. Tickets for "Race" can be purchased online before the show for $10 or for $15 at the door. Students with a valid ID can purchase tickets for $5. Seating for the show is limited, so make sure you purchase tickets before your night of choice sells out.
Alex Bieler can be contacted at aBieler@ErieReader.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @Catch20Q.