Karamu’s ‘Rasheeda Speaking’ shows the underbelly of dirty office politics


For anyone who has ever been belittled by co-workers or bosses... For anyone who has ever had to fight the odds to keep their job...For anyone who has ever been overworked and underpaid...For anyone who has ever been made to feel small and insignificant...i guess that that includes most of us and Karamu Theatre has just the play for you. Joel Drake Johnson’s Rasheeda Speaking explores the world of petty small office politics with a healthy touch of racial tension thrown in.

Jacyln Spaulding (Treva Offutt) has returned to her job as a medical assistant at a Chicago hospital after a five day mental health leave of absence. Jacyln is convinced that her panic attacks are caused by the “bad air” of her work environment that includes copy machines and toxins slipping from under the doors of the medical labs in the building.

In order to counteract these toxins she has brought a plethora of plants to the office as well as dark crystals and a special fan to dissipate the poisonous light from her computer screen. Her actions have not gone unnoticed by her boss, Dr. David Williams (John Busser) or the office manager Ileen Vanmeter (Mary Alice Beck) who have joined forces to attempt to get Jacyln transferred or fired.

Ileen has been coerced by Dr. Williams to document any behavior seen as unusual so that they can take these findings to Human Resources. Soon Jaclyn sees the writing on the wall and begins to take counter measures in the form of head games aimed at Ileen and the doctor. In the course of four short days mental roles are reversed having Jaclyn become the stable and responsible professional as Ileen starts a slide down that slippery slope of mental instability.

This compact play of around ninety minutes without intermission packs quite a wallop through the tense directing of Sarah May. From the very beginning, lighthearted comments can be construed as veiled threats and as the play goes on the tension slowly builds.

Aaron Benson’s amazing scenic design of a doctors office is correct down to the littlest detail including an office restroom and working coffee maker. Blatch-Geib clothes the actors in a way to show the passage of time. Marcus Dana does a superb job with the lighting.

This is the second time around for three of the cast members as the play was first offered at Karamu in 2016. Mary Alice Beck, John Busser and Treva Offutt revise their roles as Ileen, Dr. Williams and Jaclyn with Mary Jane Nottage taking over the role of Rose Saunders. They are all highly competent actors who seem to be very comfortable in their roles.

The two most difficult parts belong to Mary Alice Beck and Treva Offutt as they must portray a complete simultaneous mental reversal in a short period of time. They achieve this perfectly. John Busser is perfect as the manipulative doctor who by hook or crook wants to assemble the perfect office team and one that he can control at will. Mary Jane Nottage as the elderly patient Rose Saunders is an absolute hoot with her unfiltered proclamations that had the audience gasping.

While there is no adult language and little hints of adult situations nevertheless this show would be better appreciated by late high school aged children and older.

If you have ever had the nagging feeling that someone is after your job, you are probably right and this play proves it in a masterful manner. It is theatrical dynamite in an easy to understand small package. Workers of the World Unite...and see this play.

Rasheeda Speaking runs through November 24, 2019 in the Karamu Studio Theatre located at 2355 East 9th Street, Cleveland, Ohio. For tickets and information visit www.karamuhouse.org or call (216) 795-7070.

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Who is Mark Horning?

Over the course of my life I have worked a variety of jobs including newspapers, retail camera sales and photography. Eight years ago I embarked on yet another career as writer. This included articles concerning sports and cultural events in Cleveland, Ohio as well reviews of the many theatrical productions around town. These days are spent photographing professional dance groups, theater companies and various galas and festivals as well as attending various stage performances and posting reviews about them.