Thomas, a black construction worker, has just been asked to fill in for the injured foreman of his crew. He takes the responsibility seriously because he hopes it will help him earn a rare union job for which he's the only black crewman eligible. Meanwhile, Beauty, a white coworker, confides to his friends that he's also up for the union job that Thomas wants but that he didn't do as well as Thomas in the bricklaying competition. Resenting the way Thomas wields his new authority, his black crew members accuse him of selling out. Foos, a disillusioned alcoholic who's about to lose his job for constantly bucking the management, is his most embittered adversary. In an impassioned monologue he describes a run-in with the police during a race riot the night before; mistaking him for another man, the police humiliated and harassed Foos who had only gone out to get some ice cream. When the construction site manager tells Beauty he gets the union job instead of Thomas, Foos' predictions of white favoritism come true. The final confrontation between Beauty and Thomas remains unresolved as both men feel diminished by the implacable, entrenched system of racism that neither of them can continue to abide but must if they are to work.
Five construction workers, three black and two white, labor in the heat on a site in Ocean City, Maryland, as distant fires smolder from race riots in a nearby neighborhood. Two of the workers are in competition for a coveted union job. Which man wins the job illuminates the racial and class distinctions dividing America today. "…a searing examination of racism that doesn't ignore the thorny complexities of self-hate and prejudice. DISTANT FIRES is written with a canny grasp of street language. Heelan's toughness is sometimes startling in its simplicity…" —Variety. "Quietly, DISTANT FIRES raises sobering questions about racism in the work place and about the roots of urban violence…In the Mamet tradition, the dialogue is pithy
and profane and filled with a sidewalk spontaneity. The play moves effortlessly from amusing working class conversation to an atmosphere that is highly charged with conflicting points of view." —NY Times .