New York City Theater
Ethel Barrymore Theatre (Broadway)
David Mamet’s latest drama, now on the Broadway stage at the Barrymore, embodies many of the Mamet traits. It is all talk, talk, talk as the four characters attack each other—verbally, that is. Typical of Mamet, “Race” is about character, not plot development. The plot deals with what has happened and will happen, not what is momentarily happening on stage. But Mamet’s sharp, quick, insightful dialogue, thrust like spears across the footlights, has a jolting effect on listeners and brings his characters to life.
This time around, as the title “Race” indicates, the subject is race. Mamet has taken on black/white relations, examining the attendant guilt, shame, and pretenses of each group. As characters put up defenses, Mamet moves relentlessly and ever more deeply into his subject matter. As a result, viewers find themselves reexamining their own emotions, thoughts and deeds on this subject.
Specifically, “Race” deals with a white man who has been arrested for the rape of a black woman. She has brought the charges, even though they had previously had consensual sex. The drama unfolds in the law offices of Lawson and Brown, where the defendant, one Charles Strickland, is asking that the two lawyers take on his case. The lawyers, the black Henry Brown and the white Jack Lawson, put Strickland through a grilling routine, as they search out the truth. Further complicating the mix with her own agenda is Susan, a nubile young black woman who works in the Brown/Lawson office. Basic to the case is a red sequined dress, a reference which has its political reverberations and calls to mind the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky incident.
How the case is resolved, of course, will not be revealed here. But resolution matters little to Mamet, and in fact is secondary to his purpose. It is the means, not the end, which fuel this and other Mamet plays.
This excellent production with its cast of four fine players (Richard Thomas, James Spader, David Alan Grier, and Kerry Washington) does full justice to Mamet’s work. “Race” does what a play is meant to do. The viewer comes away, not only shaken, but altered by the experience.
Apr. 15, 2010