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The Claiming Race

Theatre Review by Warren Hoffman

If plays were like horses, I don't think I would risk betting my money on Robert Glaudini's anemic new work The Claiming Race, which delights in horse-racing metaphors. With its ranting and overly serious characters, the play might, for a split-second, make you think you're watching a Greek tragedy, not the flimsy one-act drama that Glaudini has cooked up instead.

It's rather hard to feel anything for Glaudini's three repugnant characters whose issues and concerns seem particularly inconsequential.

Deni (Lola Glaudini) is a 25 year-old kept woman who has been in the service of an older married man, Millock (Gerry Becker), for eight years. A one-time literature professor from Yale who has given up academia to devote his life to betting on horses from which he has made a pretty penny, Millock is a thoroughly despicable man. He's a racist, a homophobe, and a self-identified sexist pig who shows no remorse in making bigoted and prejudiced statements. That he's also a Jew who "loves money" (he often has cash in excess of $50,000 on his person at any given moment) only further positions him as a figure who anti-Semites would surely love to embrace. Though Millock clearly covets wealth, it's never made clear as to why he has left academia, particularly as he enjoys pontificating about great literature, especially classics by Joyce and Faulkner, to Deni. Deni, despite her posh lifestyle, is tired of being used sexually and emotionally by Millock and wants out. Millock offers to help Deni start a new life and promises to get her the letter of recommendation that she needs to snag a cushy job as a personal assistant, a promise that, much to Deni's frustration, he is remiss in fulfilling.

The play's final figure is O.T. Motherwell (Chris McKinney), an African-American man, who shares a secret past with Deni. An ex-con, Motherwell shows up at Deni's luxurious Beverly Hills Hotel (elegantly designed by Kelly Hanson), and soon begins figuring out how he will help Deni leave Millock while making off with some of Millock's money in the process. Though Motherwell and Deni haven't seen each other for two years, once Motherwell arrives, he starts brewing a plan with such ludicrous intensity that one would think he was organizing a coup of a small country. McKinney does the best he can with his role, but Motherwell, like the play's other characters, is so one-dimensional that it's hard to take him seriously.

As for Deni, she's not ignorant, but as played by Lola Glaudini, seems a little slow. Deni is the center of the play, but all of her character's emotions (indignation, anger, frustration, drunken stupor) are played out with the same monotone level of inflection. Her stilted body language and lack of emotional range only contributes to the play's tiresome subject matter. Some of her line readings, particularly during a moment when she lashes out at Motherwell, inspire unintentional laughter, making it difficult for the audience to identify with her at all.

The play unfolds with little tension or surprise. Plans between Deni and Millock are made and the requisite showdown between Millock and Motherwell ensues. Brian Roff's direction of the play's multiple scenes (which are broken up by a recording of an "inspirational tape" by a Reverend Titus whom Motherwell admires) feels equally lifeless and at times messy, particularly when characters begin to fight. Though the figure of Millock is somewhat redeemed by the show's conclusion, the key to his redemption is an obvious plot twist.

Perhaps with a better cast this play might work, but the show's themes and aspirations, as currently written, are too mundane and lightweight for anyone to take much interest in. Without some rewrites, this play seems destined for the glue factory.

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Theater for the New City
The Claiming Race
Through October 17
Theater for the New City, 155 First Avenue between 9th and 10th Streets
Schedule and Tickets: 212.352.3101