Anyone who sees Rasheeda Speaking, the intriguing new play by Joel Drake Johnson that explores dangerous dynamics in the workplace, may find themselves calling out sick to work the day after the performance. Or, at the very least, glancing over their shoulders at their neighbors in the office.
The play finds us in the office of Dr. Williams (Darren Goldstein), and his right hand woman, Ileen (Dianne Wiest) discussing the performance of Jaclyn (Tonya Pinkins). Dr. Williams has promoted Ileen to office manager and asks her to start compiling a file on Jacyln’s behavior. As he tells Ileen, “I don’t think she fits in.”
Jaclyn has been out sick for a few days and, upon returning to the office, she does not present herself as the most efficient or effective employee. She’s focused on the arrangement of her plants in the office and continually engages Ileen in conversation and gossip about her neighbors and the “toxins” in the office.
Whether the motivation of Dr. Williams is racist or simply related to Jaclyn’s performance is up for debate, as the audience sees Ileen treat a frail patient (Patricia Conolly) abruptly and even with hostility.
The struggle for power between Ileen and Jaclyn begins to escalate when Jaclyn learns a file has been created about her. It makes for an intriguing premise but is written clumsily at times, it’s only thanks to Pinkins’ outstandingly assured performance that the production is elevated to the level it is. She easily overpowers Wiest’s Ileen, who is frail, trembling and easily shaken by Jaclyn’s mind games. Cynthia Nixon’s swift direction keeps the play moving briskly while continually engaging the audience. This play is not meant for the easily shaken.