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The Theatreguide.London Review

Rasheeda Speaking
Trafalgar Studio 2   Spring 2018

Earlier this year I began a review of Bruce Graham's White Guy On The Bus with 'It may sometimes seem that there is nothing new to say about America's ongoing tragedy of race relations. But there are new ways of saying it.' 

That can apply as well to Joel Drake Johnson's play, though the two are otherwise very different. By focusing on a very small and local arena what goes on in an office where one person is black Johnson reminds us that race affects everything everywhere. 

A doctor (Bo Poraj) wants to fire one of his two secretaries because she is inefficient, abrasive, uncooperative, frequently absent and filled with attitude. 

Jaclyn (Tanya Moodie) is in fact inefficient, abrasive, uncooperative, frequently absent and filled with attitude. 

She is also black, and such are the employment laws that the boss has to build an airtight case for her dismissal.  So he recruits his other, white secretary (Elizabeth Berrington) to keep notes on every slip and misdemeanour. 

But in America nothing is simply black and white when the people are black and white. The doctor is not an open racist, but he is enough of a snob, control freak and manipulator that we can't easily dismiss race as a driving force in his campaign against Jaclyn. 

And we quickly see that a lot of her attitude and difficulty fitting in is the product of a lifetime of casual daily racism. (The title refers to a local substitute for the forbidden N-word that she chooses to co-opt and use herself to defang it.) 

And she is no fool. She may be stuck in a cat-and-mouse game of the others trying to build a case against her, but a lifetime of dealing with subtle and open racism and a lifetime of bubbling anger make Jaclyn the better player. 

Playwright Johnson manipulates personalities and events a bit too openly in order to reach his conclusion in ninety minutes, and director Jonathan O'Boyle leads his actors (also including Sheila Reid as a patient caught in the crossfire) to occasional overplaying of one or two keynotes at the expense of more depth and rounding of character. 

In other words, you can sometimes see the play straining to say what it wants to say. But what it wants to say about the inescapable interference of race in any American situation is powerful and will linger with you longer than the minor awkwardnesses of its presentation.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review -  Rasheeda Speaking - Trafalgar Studio 2,  2018

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