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Sunday, 13 December 2009 18:13

Broadway Review: Race

Written by
James Spader and Richard Thomas in Race
Photo: Robert J. Saferstein

David Mamet’s new Broadway play Race, as its name implies deals with race and how diametrically opposed one group can be to another as a result of generalizations and mis-communication.  Running a scant one hour and forty minutes, Race is classic Mamet.  It crackles with accusations and tart retorts in the hands of at least half the actors in the production. 

James Spader (“Boston Legal”) and funny man David Alan Grier (The First) are law partners Jack Lawson and Henry Brown.  Richard Thomas (Democracy) is Charles Strickland, a white man of means who has been accused of raping a black woman with whom he has been having an affair.  He is seeking representation from Messrs. Lawson and Brown after already having been fired by a previous firm. 

Mr. Spader and Mr. Grier give standout performances.  Mr. Thomas’ performance is odd.  Perhaps I’m confusing his laid-back and confident attitude that comes with his sense of entitlement with what appears to be a near catatonic performance.  One never gets the sense that this man is fighting for his life. 

In her Broadway debut, Kerry Washington (“Ray”) gives a dull and monotone performance as the new associate who, as a black woman is immediately suspect of Strickland’s plea of not guilty.  Her performance was reminiscent of my stage management days when stage managers would fill in for a missing actor during rehearsal, her delivery droll and pat.  Part of the problem may be Ms. Washington’s background as a screen actress.  Her performance might have worked fine on film where every nuance can be captured subtly in a close-up while being delivered in a whisper, this doesn’t work for the stage, let alone for Mamet. 

Kerry Washington and James Spader in Race
Photo: Robert J. Saferstein

Mr. Mamet, who also serves as the plays director gives his characters things to say that most of us only think privately in our own heads.  Were it not for the fact that Thomas’ character was already fired by one lawyer, it is hard to conceive of lawyers speaking to a potential client the way these lawyers speak to him.  Unfortunately, the ending of the play is unsatisfying in two regards.  First of all, a line that could have put an exclamation point on the end of the play rendering the current ending more satisfying is delivered in a way that makes you expect a third act.  Secondly, there is not third act.  While one conflict is “resolved,” the audience never learns the truth.

The play is set in a law firm library designed by scenic designer Santo Loquasto.  He has limited the amount of playing space by creating a large black matte around his playing area.  This helps to create the feeling of expansiveness yet focuses and limits the playing area.  Brian MacDevitt has created an effective lighting design that creates the sensation of being in a stadium.  He has created rows of visible lights surrounding the stage on the top and sides in the blank area created by Loquasto’s scenic design giving you an awareness of the metaphorical light being shone on the subject.

As for Tom Broecker’s costume design, I only have one bone to pick.  Frankly, it’s more a complaint with David Mamet’s direction.  At the beginning of the play Mamet has Ms. Washington’s character standing upstage and eventually sitting on the ledge of the bookshelf up center with her legs crossed.  Mr. Broecker has put her in a short, tight skirt.  First of all, an associate would never do this in a law firm while meeting with a prospective client.  Secondly the skirt is so tight that it continually rides up Ms. Washington’s legs throughout the play.  I’m not offended by the site of Ms. Washington’s legs, I’m offended by how badly the dress looked on her.

David Alan Grier and James Spader in Race
Photo: Robert J. Saferstein

Race is entertaining and thought provoking but could have been better.  While Mr. Thomas’ and Ms. Washington’s characters are nothing to speak of, had they been delivered differently, they could have made a world of difference in how you felt about the play.  For this I also call into question Mr. Mamet’s decision to direct his own work.


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Read full production credits at the Internet Broadway Database.

Last modified on Friday, 23 July 2010 14:05