Epic's "Rasheeda Speaking" a tense psychological drama

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Cranston’s Epic Theatre brings us a tense psychological/sociological/political one-act play that will challenge your emotions and feelings for the four characters that interact with each other in the workplace.

The setting is Dr. Williams’ front office, where long-time employee Ileen (Lynne Collinson) caters to the needs of her employer by agreeing to keep a written record of Jaclyn (MJ Daly), the newer office worker, who happens to be black.

Dr. Williams is not pleased with Jaclyn’s attitude and is looking for ways to fire her without violating the restrictive Human Resources guidelines. The biased doctor promotes Ileen to office manager, even though she only has one person to manage, and the fun begins.

Attitudes of both the women, who have been “friendly but not friends,” changes. It doesn’t take Jaclyn long to figure out what is happening, and she reacts with a vengeance.

Playwright Joel Drake Johnson writes crisp, cutting dialogue, interjecting subtle and at times blatant racism from all three characters.

Director Tammy Brown has picked up on many of the subtleties, pretensions and even lies that come out of the mouths of people threatened by each other. Tension builds to the boiling point as the situation turns into a power struggle.

While audience members often search for characters that they care about, just when you start to feel empathy or sympathy for one of them, they say or do something stupid or distasteful and your feelings change. The emotional impact is shattering, especially when Jaclyn gives a brief monologue about her experience on a bus on her way to work.

If you were wondering where the title of the play comes from, it involves her reference to a group of white males who use the name in a racist way.

There’s a lot packed into this tense confrontational play, and it takes good actors to bring out the many facets of their characters.

Veteran 2nd Story Theatre actress and Cranstonian Lynne Collinson, in her first role at Epic (she has performed monologues there), gives a powerful performance as Ileen, while Epic actress MJ Daly gives the performance of her life as Jaclyn. Together, they complement each other. Michael Petrarca is good as the doctor, as is Joan Batting as a confused patient in a brief but pivotal role.

The combination of the psychological, sociological and political elements make for an engrossing, thought-provoking night of theatre, which calls for a brief talk-back with Artistic Director Kevin Broccoli, the actors and director following each performance.

There are only three more performances at Theatre 82, 82 Rolfe St. in Cranston: Friday, Feb. 17 and Saturday, Feb. 18 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 19 at 2 p.m. Go to www.epicetheatre.org and reserve your seat.

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