Never mind Jesus. What would Atticus Finch do?
Notwithstanding the fact that it’s so rivetingly written by the Pulitzer Prize-winning David Mamet (“Glengarry Glen Ross”), a mere synopsis of his incisive drama “Race” could read like any run-of-the-mill, ripped-from-the-headlines episode of “Law & Order.”
In isolated and fleeting moments of director John Dillon’s dynamic staging for True Colors Theatre, it might even sound like one, too. Running a feverish 90 minutes without intermission, its few scene changes are punctuated with the echoing clank of a jail cell slamming shut, a la the recurring musical chord used throughout that TV show.
A wealthy middle-aged white man stands accused of raping a younger black woman. Suddenly in need of new legal representation, he consults with two partners of a high-powered law firm, perhaps specifically because one of the men is white and the other black. Along with their clerk, who happens to be a young black woman as well, they review all of the sordid details and weigh their various options before deciding whether to accept the case.
Inflammatory without being sensationalistic about it, the play is a crackling legal potboiler — and yet considerably more than just that. Mamet keeps us guessing with a couple of plot twists here or there, as the lawyers uncover some crucial evidence about the case. Their prospective client is clearly no Tom Robinson, but could his alleged victim be a kind of modern-day Mayella Ewing? Is she his mistress or a prostitute? Was it rape or consensual sex?
In the process, Mamet’s characters most vehemently debate the greater social and moral implications of the case, and above all its racial overtones, while speculating on the various ways a trial might play out, both in a court of law and in the court of public opinion. When internal office politics eventually enter the equation — largely involving the motivations of the assistant (if not also those behind her hiring) — “Race” takes everything to a whole other level.
Dillon elicits uniformly impeccable performances from a blazing cast: Andrew Benator and Neal Ghant as the tenacious attorneys, Ric Reitz as the dubious defendant and Tiffany Hobbs as the pivotal assistant. Just as the play asks more pertinent questions than it offers concrete answers, these actors layer their roles with a skillful ambiguity that defies our being able to easily take sides or to value any one’s valid point or observation over another’s. And rarely are the heightened demands of Mamet’s signature dialogue — acerbic, profane, rapid-fire and often overlapping — met quite as smoothly and effortlessly as they are here.
The show marks a particularly provocative triumph for founder/artistic director Kenny Leon’s True Colors, which doesn’t tend to tackle a lot of edgy contemporary fare (see last season’s hit version of the quaint ’60s movie “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” or, later this season, Leon and co-star Phylicia Rashad in the nostalgic ’70s rom-com “Same Time, Next Year”).
You be the judge. And the jury. And maybe even the executioner. See it and, as with most great theater, draw your own conclusions.
Through March 23. 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Fridays; 2:30 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; 2:30 p.m. Sundays; 11 a.m. March 5 and 7 only. $20-$35. Southwest Arts Center, 915 New Hope Road, Atlanta. 1-877-725-8849, www.truecolorstheatre.org.
Bottom line: An open-and-shut case of scintillating theater.