Stage and Cinema film and theatre reviews

Race by David Mamet – Broadway Play Review




picture - RaceTheater Review

by Cindy Pierre

published January 10, 2010



now playing on Broadway at the Ethel Barrymore Theater

(open run)


While a multi-ethnic law firm grapples with taking on a white-on-black sex crime case, their own internal racial and gender dynamics are also analyzed. David Mamet's new gutsy play, Race, may not always nail the issues, dialogue, or set on the head, but a sluggish start turns into a compelling play that showcases the range of the celebrity cast and challenges compartmentalized thinking.


You may be wondering if your thoughts are in boxes, but there's no question that the boundaries of Santo Loquasto's scenic design should be more narrowly defined.  The sprawling law firm set, realistic but spread too broadly across the cavernous Ethel Barrymore stage, swallows the voices of the typically commanding performers.  This doesn't bode well for lawyers Jack (James Spader), Henry (David Alan Grier) and Susan (Kerry Washington), supposed litigation powerhouses that struggle to project their vocal powers.


Also having difficulty is Washington herself, but she is only partially to blame.  Set up as a mere fixture for the entire first scene, Washington's character, a smart, new recruit to the law firm, is underwritten in the beginning, and then spends a good portion of the play being lobbied between Grier and Spader as if by taps on the rear.  Susan is demeaned by both male characters, but Grier, with the most successful performance of the production, attacks her surprisingly like a rottweiler.  There's no solidarity between the black characters of Race, and that's exactly the way Mamet intended.  What he probably did not intend, however, is the predominantly hollow delivery of Washington's lines.  The cyclical tone that we come to expect from Mamet's dialogue seems to be hammered into her the most, but unlike her cast mates, her delivery is unnatural. 


Fortunately, the plot unfurls with relative ease.  As expected, when Charles (Richard Thomas), a wealthy man seeking defense against rape charges of a black woman, whitens their door, tension and deliberation ensues.  Mamet, stepping outside of racial experience, takes a bold stab at understanding the black female psyche.  He doesn't always get it right and the transition between the main plot and a subplot surrounding Susan's employment isn't always smooth, but complex situations reveal an insight that one would not expect would fall within his scope of knowledge.  And like a brilliant legal secretary abetting the lawyer in the courtroom, Brian MacDevitt's sharp lighting design heightens the already sizzling drama.


With five other Broadway shows – A Steady Rain, Ragtime, Superior Donuts, Memphis and Finian's Rainbow – currently tackling the subject of race, it would be easy for Race to be engulfed.  But the themes surrounding this production, even in and especially because of their brashness, make it bob up above the rest.


cindypierre @


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