Theater can be pure entertainment, heavy drama, or both. Rasheeda Speaking falls into the latter category. Playwright Joel Drake Johnson takes a heavy topic, racism, sprinkles in liberal doses of humor, and as an audience we both think and laugh as we wonder about our own preconceived notions and why we all can’t get along.
Set in a doctor’s office, the play examines the manipulations, miscommunications and missed opportunities of four characters. Dr. Williams sets the events in motion as he wants one of the women in his twoperson office fired, but doesn’t want to get his hands dirty. As portrayed by Darren Goldstein (who after his turn on “The Affair” is cornering the market in men you love to hate) the doctor is a coward who gives the job of documenting Jaclyn’s (Tonya Pickens) wrongdoings to Ilene (Dianne Wiest). And then the games begin. Both actresses are excellent as women who were office friends and are now pitted against one another. Pickens’ character is both ingratiating and infuriating and Wiest’s alternates between steely and and scared. There’s Rose (Patricia Conolly) as an elderly patient who makes “innocently” racist observations. As we watch the interplay between the four characters we wonder about the prisms through which we interact with people from different backgrounds and cultures. The way Jaclyn tells a story about her Mexican neighbors, the way Ilene relays what her husband says about Jaclyn’s “people” and the way the doctor talks in code about documenting everything for human resources reminds us how close we are to stepping in verbal minefields every day.
As with “Disgraced” I did find that the “lessons” of this play sometimes became heavy-handed and Ilene’s fear at the end of the show was over the edge. But Rasheeda Speaking left me with plenty of food for thought and the privilege of seeing four accomplished actors. Cynthia Nixon has made an assured directorial debut. AFW
The Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 W 42 St
Ticket prices: $77-$97, rush tickets available 1 hour before show $27
Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission
Runs thru: March 22, 2015