Race by David Mamet – Broadway Play
AN ALL STAR (BLACK AND WHITE) CAST
by Cindy Pierre
published January 10, 2010
now playing on Broadway at the Ethel Barrymore Theater
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
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.
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.
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.