Mom Theatre Blogger: Rasheeda Speaking: Show Review by Robin Gorman Newman
The NY premiere of Joel Drake Johnson’s Rasheeda Speaking is playing a limited Off-Broadway engagement at The New Group, January 27 – March 22. Directed by actress Cynthia Nixon, in her impressive directorial debut, the polished production features a cast of real pros — Patricia Conolly (Rose), Darren Goldstein (Dr. Williams), Tonya Pinkins (Jaclyn) and Dianne Wiest (Ileen).
Despite their differences, Ileen and Jaclyn have developed what appears to be a genuine bond, at least in the workplace, as they toil away at the front desk of Dr. Williams’ medical office. When the doctor decides to fire Jaclyn, he enlists a highly resistant Ileen to help him find fault and document any missteps in a notebook, so she may be let go without legal racial backlash.
When we first meet Jacklyn, she makes a grand entrance after having been out for five days on sick leave. Almost immediately, we see that her tongue is nearly as toxic as the fumes she claims are in the office that continually make her sneeze and not feel well. She brings in a crystal and fan to place on her desk to absorb fumes and rays from her computer. She’s also a huge fan of plants, and she is a hoot when she totes in a large plant for Ileen as a peace offering.
Ileen has been there 8 years and has paid her dues. Jaclyn has been there six months, and vows to keep her job, despite having an attitude and not looking the doctor in the eye, according to him. She is perceived as difficult with patients, and when she suspects a plot to terminate her employment, she launches into a plan to torment Ileen by switching up items in her drawers, leading Ileen to extreme mental duress, inspiring her to pocket a gun for self protection.
Wiest and Pinkins are a formidable pair. Wiest is the understated embodiment of meek, mild-mannered, orderly confidence, yet don’t push me too far, and I might be capable of more than you think. Pinkins clearly relishes her role and between her line delivery, facial expressions, and body language, she fully captures the heart and soul of an office-worker scorned and a Black woman who feels she bears the weight of the racial world on her shoulders, particularly when she tells the dramatic bus tale explaining the origin of the name Rasheeda. She enjoys “playing” both Ilene and Dr. Williams once she gets wind of their scheme, and her portrayal is delicious and biting. When she relates a story about American Girl dolls, her comedic ability also.shines.
Conolly as an elderly regular patient of the doctor hits the right notes, especially as she states to Jacklyn that her rudeness is probably “your way to get revenge for slavery.”
And, Goldstein is convincing, with an above it all air as the doc in charge.
This production features Set Design by Allen Moyer, Costume Design by Toni-Leslie James, Lighting Design by Jennifer Tipton and Sound Design and Original Music by David Van Tieghem.
The New Group, led by founding Artistic Director Scott Elliott and Executive Director Adam Bernstein, is an award-winning, artist-driven company with a commitment to developing and producing powerful, contemporary theater. Founded in 1995, The New Group was born of Artistic Director Scott Elliott’s desire to develop a place for artists to experiment, take risks and learn from each other without the pressures of commercial theater.