FORT WORTH A doctor’s office turns into a battlefield in “Rasheeda Speaking,” the drama that opened at Circle Theatre on Saturday. In the fog of war it creates, it is often difficult to see which side is winning.
This play by Joel Drake Johnson is set in the present in a Chicago doctor’s reception area. Assisting Dr. Williams (Ken Orman) are two office workers, Ileen (Lisa Fairchild) and Jaclyn (Denise Lee). Ileen has been part of the office for several years, but Jaclyn has only been on the job for six months. Williams feels he has made a mistake in hiring Jaclyn, who is black, and wants her gone. To that end, he tells Ileen to begin documenting reasons for firing or transferring Jaclyn, and suggests that she should even lie to make sure a case is made.
It doesn’t take long for Jaclyn to catch a whiff of what is going down and, like a soldier under attack from a superior force, she marshals every defense she can find to blunt the assault. And just as in a real war, the battle lines get blurred and both sides dirty their hands in a number of ways before a victor emerges.
The centerpiece of this 100-minute, single-act production is the powerful performance by Lee, which pulsates with a seething, repressed anger. Lee, who is making her Circle debut, is best known for roles that showcase her outstanding vocal abilities. But she gets the opportunity to show off her acting chops in this show, and takes full advantage of the chance.
Orman and Fairchild also turn in excellent performances. Don’t overlook the work of Barrie Alguire in the relatively minor role of Mrs. Saunders, the only Williams patient we see. She is so natural in her part that most people will not even think of it as acting. And when actors can achieve that, they have won.
Krista Scott’s direction is beautifully transparent. The most impressive aspect of her work is the way she tightly controls the intensity levels of Johnson’s fine script, which rise and fall like they are on a rollercoaster track. Scott also makes good use of a highly realistic set designed by Clare Floyd DeVries.
Ultimately, “Rasheeda Speaking” is a dark snapshot of race relations in 21st-century America. Johnson does not try to preach or offer solutions. Instead, he gives us a play that presents how things are in workplaces across America, and leaves it to us to sort out what should be done about it.
It is not an easy night at the theater. But it is one that will make you think.