Review: Race

Originally reviewed for

Rich white man Charles (Richard Thomas) has been accused of raping a not-rich black woman, and hires a law firm led by partners Jack (James Spader) and Henry (David Alan Grier) with associate Susan (Kerry Washington). Sounds like a promising set-up for a David Mamet play, right? Think again.

The most compelling thing about the production is the opportunity to see Mamet as directed by Mamet. In general, I think it’s a mistake for a writer to direct his own work. In the case of Race, though, Mamet’s direction clears up one very important thing about performing his plays: Don’t let the rhythm hypnotize you.

Yes, as everybody says, this playwright picks his words very carefully. But there is not some great mystery in this, no right rhythm that overrides the sense of what he’s written. The words mean what you think they mean, and they’re spoken in the way a real human would say them. Sometimes they dance, but just as often they halt and change directions. Spader in particular masterfully delivers the lines with maximum economy and impact.

That said, there’s a lot more economy than impact in the writing of Race. In terms of content, the play, while smart, isn’t even up to insight of a third rate episode of Law & Order. I’m thinking in particular of a (first-rate) episode of L & O: Criminal Intent (co-written by playwright Teresa Rebeck), dealing with a street gang run with the precepts of Marcus Aurelius, that digs a lot deeper than Race does. Mamet wrote Race because he could, not because he needed to, or had anything really new to say to us.

For tickets, click here.

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