Regional Reviews: Phoenix
The play takes place in a doctor's office set inside a large Chicago medical center. It begins with a conversation between Dr. Williams (Joseph Kremer) and his newly appointed office manager Ileen (Katie McFadzen), both who are white, concerning her African-American co-worker Jaclyn (Lillie Richardson), whom he wants to get rid of, claiming that "she just doesn't fit in." He has asked Ileen to keep notes of any inappropriate work behavior that Jaclyn exhibits since he needs documented proof from a third party for Human Resources to take action. While we witness Jaclyn's rude and unprofessional behavior, which makes us believe she deserves to be fired, Johnson also creates situations which make us question if she is being unjustly targeted. The plot also includes some interesting twists that show how misconstrued instances can create situations that spin out of control.
While Johnson's play examines race and how power can be used and misused, and his dialogue is crisp and interesting, the points he tries to make about racism aren't exactly clear. If he is trying to show us that Jaclyn is being incorrectly maligned and racially targeted, then why does he have her also exhibit racist views and tell demeaning stories about her Mexican neighbors and also display rude and inappropriate behavior to Ileen and a patient of Dr. Williams? We also aren't quite sure if the racial stories Jaclyn tells, that draw both Ileen and the audience in, are real or ones that she has created to help her defense and make her appear to be the victim. Johnson writes Jaclyn to be a much stronger and interesting character than Ileen and Williams, but he also paints the white characters to be somewhat more realistic, which all adds to the confusion of who is the victim. He also includes moments of humor that make us somewhat unsure of how we are supposed to take the actions we see.
Director Matthew Wiener and his cast do a very good job in making Johnson's dialogue and situations both sound and appear intriguing. However, the fact that Wiener plays up the comical moments in the script make Johnson's intent harder to understand, though the cast is excellent in making their characters believable, both in the dramatic and humorous moments.
Ranging from both defensive to sweetly mannered, Richardson is excellent in showing us two very different sides of Jaclyn. She is exceptional at portraying how Jaclyn manipulates the people around her when she feels threatened and when she believes she is in the right. Richardson paints a superb picture of this tough, resilient, and exceptionally clever woman. Katie McFadzen is equally as Ileen, a passive woman who finds herself becoming a victim of the events that unfold around her. Joseph Kremer presents an even-measured portrayal of the dismissive and slightly condescending Dr. Williams, who is in a level of power but feels threatened by someone underneath him. Pamela Fields does well in the smaller role of a patient who has an unpleasant encounter with Jaclyn.
Creative elements are very good, with an excellent and authentic looking set design from Thom Gilseth, a bright lighting design from Jamie Arakas that achieves a realistic office environment, and costume designs by Carol Simmons that represent appropriate medical garb.
Rasheeda Speaking may not be a completely successful play but Joel Drake Johnson does create interesting characters and situations. While the play may not be as provocative as it could be, Black Theatre Troupe's very good cast helps present a humorous and interesting dynamic of the challenges of getting along with racially diverse co-workers. It may also make you examine your own racial views and ponder how there is a big difference between being friends with your co-workers and just being friendly.
The Black Theatre Troupe production of Rasheeda Speaking runs through October 23rd, 2016, at the Helen K. Mason Performing Arts Center, 1333 East Washington Street in downtown Phoenix. Tickets can be ordered at www.blacktheatretroupe.org or by calling 602-258-8129.
Written by by Joel Drake Johnson