Sunday, February 22, 2015

Rasheeda Speaking

Speaking, starring Tonya Pinkins and Dianne Wiest, marks the directing debut of acclaimed actress Cynthia Nixon. Written by Joel Drake Johnson, this workplace drama brings to light the racial tensions that are still so present in America today. Ileen (Wiest) is the eager-to-please manager of Dr. Williams' (Goldstein) office, while Jaclyn (Pinkins) seems to always rub everyone the wrong way. The stark contrast between these two women is amplified by the staging--two desks splitting the stage--and the obvious difference of one woman being black while the other is white.

The tension between Jaclyn (Pinkins) and the white employees in the office is palpable immediately as Ileen and Dr. Williams discuss how to get Jaclyn fired without creating an HR nightmare. This motif of Jaclyn walking into a room stealthily as she's being gossiped about is repeated several times throughout the play. At the beginning, Jaclyn and Ileen are friendly, with Ileen saying "you are full of drama, I missed your stories, your yammerings." Then things start to unravel as Jaclyn starts showing up late, mixes up details when she tells stories, and grows increasingly negative. This wears on Ilene until she reaches a point of such hysteria that she brings a gun to work and quits.

As the audience, we get what Johnson is trying to do here. He wants to show us that as much as we try to push them under the carpet. Unfortunately, in making Jaclyn, or as she later refers to herself, the stereotypical Rasheeda, he undermines his point. We have to assume that Johnson wants us to pull for Jacylyn since he establishes her as an underdog early on, but she is just such a horribly unlikable character. The pacing is also quite slow, making it difficult to feel engaged in the piece. The subject is certainly an interesting one, but a play may not be the best vehicle. The drama of the piece never really ramps up until the final twenty minutes, with the highlight being Dianne Wiest's exquisite portrayal of the physical effects of emotional stress on Ileen. Cynthia Nixon does a fine job in her directorial debut, but I have to wonder what she could have done with a more interesting script?

No comments:

Post a Comment