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Review: 'The Race' is an Uncomfortable, Cautionary Tale

by Will Demers
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Thursday Dec 10, 2020
Review: 'The Race' is an Uncomfortable, Cautionary Tale

Many people have been trapped (for lack of a better word) since the beginning of the Pandemic, and for those that may have either lost their jobs or are unable to work remotely from home, there are new challenges that await them. For many, there aren't many options other than searching for jobs online, and the "new" interviewing process comes with a new set of circumstances that may have been unforeseen until current times.

"The Race" chronicles an interview between two men looking for a marketing and sales job, who are faced with questions not from a person, but from an algorithm; or so it may seem for both of them. Joseph Black (Jim O'Brien) and Joseph White (Rodney Eric Lopez) join an online interview in which they both are asked questions by an Alexa/Siri-like A.I. (Jennifer Mischley), whose questions start off in a professional manner, but descend into intrusive and seemingly irrelevant inquiries.

While the A.I. (highlighted by a "W" while on screen) asks relevant questions, there are moments when she warns both men that there may be intrusive queries. This becomes apparent when they are both asked if they were ever arrested, whether they have felt discrimination, or what are their sexual fantasies. Both men are clearly defined: Joseph White is younger, has a darker skin color, and is economically challenged. Joseph Black is a middle aged single white man who claims that while he wants the job, he doesn't really need it.

"The Race" was presented via a live Zoom feed; guests purchasing tickets are given a link to view the show on their computer or phone. (A growing performance method since live theater isn't returning anytime soon.) Written by Mark Binder, this Willbury Theatre Group production marks his first produced play in 20 years. And thematically it touches upon life during the pandemic when in-person interviews are off the table. If this exercise is any indication, we are in for some rough times ahead.

As both men suspect they're not speaking to a real person, Joe White asks repeatedly if there's a real person to speak with, while Joe Black reluctantly seems resigned to the fact. As the former gets more and more exasperated with the situation, both men muse that an interview with a computer may be the wave of the future. Binder touches upon the current, collective emotional state — that is there is little control over options to return to a semblance of normalcy, that we have little control over our options in this new normal. And as options dwindle for many, "The Race" is not only a cautionary tale that hints at a possible future.

Both O'Brien and Lopez handle their respective characters competently, each has a challenge to convey their frustrations. O'Brien shows his middle aged businessman as ready for any question, except perhaps for the sexual fantasy; Lopez is increasingly more frustrated with his situation, even swearing and yelling at offscreen children during the interview. Mischely is absolutely spot on as the A.I., creepily handing out questions written by a maniac and delivered by one's smartphone app. All three players are directed by Wilbury resident artist Brien Lang, and it's worth a look, especially when we're all hanging out at home for the most part.

"The Race" is featured via Zoom App with theatregoers purchasing tickets for a link to the show. Performances are December 4th and 6th. For information or tickets call 401-400-7100 X0 or visit www.thewilburygroup.org.

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