Race Dramaturgy

by Jahnesha Huertas

David Mamet’s plays Oleanna, Race, and Speed-The Plow have countless similarities. Not only does Mamet shine light on the dynamics of power, class, and authority between men and women, but the driving catalyst of his plot is almost always the sinister actions of a female. Whether this is the manifestations of sexist views on the behalf of the playwright is not completely apparent. Mamet shows women using their assets and positions in society to take advantage of male authorities.

In Oleanna, Carol, is a college student who can't handle the pressures of college and seeks out extra help from her professor. She makes it very clear that it is unfair that the authorities who hold the power to decide if she fails are human beings just like herself - they are people who aren't less lacking in their perfections, so why do they hold so much power over her and society? Susan in Race is also a young woman, an intern to be exact, and is surrounded by men in the workplace. She is the one with less professional experience, yet she ends up being the biggest threat to the case. Karen in Speed-The-Plow portrays herself as pure and naïve and is significantly younger than Gould, the film producer, who is obviously attracted to her. She wants a film idea to be produced and she knows that she can use her sexuality to get what she wants. She is very honest and upfront with Gould about his desires and romanticizes his need for love as virtuous. She makes him think that they both are searching for the same thing.

Mamet has a very specific formula. All of these plays have only one woman in them and he places the female in a male-dominated atmosphere. Mamet gives most of the social and professional power to the men in his pieces. By making Carol the student, Susan the eager intern and Karen the secretary, they seem the least threatening. His plays communicate that still in today’s world, men hold most of the power. Mamet puts his female characters at different social statuses than their male counterparts to mirror the dynamics of authority in the real world and their efforts on their inferior subjects. Also, Mamet makes age a prominent factor in all the characters of his plays - the women are all the youngest.

Race takes this a step further by making race a prominent issue in the plot. One of Susan’s mentors is also black like herself. By doing this, Mamet makes the statement that gender trumps race. Even though both characters are black, Susan’s position does not hinder her efforts to stand up for the alleged rape victim - another black woman. Both characters are more married to the bigger picture than their current situations. They are willing to risk everything to prove a point. Even though the alleged rapist never commits foul play against Susan personally, she still wants to make him an example.

Susan’s character challenges the definition of right and wrong. She has a very strong feeling that the alleged rapist is indeed guilty, however, she doesn’t act on her strong emotions until after her mentor asks her to play the victim in a reenactment of the encounter. Such an act would be her admitting that a white man was innocent of the rape of another black woman. Susan believes that since the alleged rapist confessed to the crime, thus proving that he was guilty, all of her foul play up until that point simply does not count. Susan is actually an aid in uncovering the truth. Her male colleagues are loyal to their client, but not necessarily loyal to the truth. As lawyers, they aren't interested in revealing the truth, they only want to protect their version of the truth.

The female characters in Race, Oleanna, and Speed-The-Plow are more loyal to the principles of their life situations than to the situations themselves. Susan, Karen and Carol are interested in making a statement about justice and truth in the society that we live in and Mamet uses them as a literary device to not only forward the plot, but as a symbol. Mamet shows that though men do not hold all of the power, woman are still highly underestimated. Mamet's female characters show that it doesn’t matter how mature and professional a male may be - a younger woman who appears defenseless can fool any man into doing what she wants.