Race: Quasi-Legal

race-mametRace, written and directed by David Mamet, is an hour and fifteen minutes of legal rhetoric that toys with a meaningful examination of racial relations but ultimately can’t reach a compelling verdict. Too long to be a one-act and too short to be anything else, this stocking stuffer of a drama completes it bah humbug with a "12 minute intermission" which was added so people wouldn’t think they paid full price for half a play.

Deserving more blame as writer than director, Mamet battles with what one can safely assume is a suppressed case of white-boy guilt hidden beneath blanket statements regarding race. The claim that all black people inherently hate all white people and that all white people will screw over any black person any time they can is not only inane but racist in and of itself. These views are expressed by Jack Lawson (decently played by James Spader) who is the only character written with any real dimension, leaving the other three players to wander through words the author thinks they would say. Like many a Mamet script, particularly in the last decade, take out the profanity and other words that civilized people aren’t supposed to say and there just isn’t much there. Mamet doesn’t score much higher as a director but draws less fouls. The movement and deliveries are fittingly natural for the piece, tediously so at times, but work to create a believable world for these half-believe characters to live in.

Overall, none of these actors master the unique cadence and tone necessary to bring a Mamet script to life. Spader comes closest, breathing in the pauses and relaxing into the four-letter-words, but still no fucking cigar. David Alan Grier’s Henry Brown provides a balancing tough guy to Spader’s nicer guy, playing on themes of angry, but little else.

Kerry Washington does what she can with Susan and her lack of a last name. Washington enters with a silent chip on her shoulder that becomes progressively less silent as the play builds to its cop-out ending. Unfortunately her grievances are never further developed, just louder and more pronounced, making it difficult to empathize with her argument and impossible to follow her logic. Her character’s talent and intelligence is something more talked about by others than demonstrated by her actions and dialogue, again, a fault of the script. Richard Thomas, playing Charles Strickland, is given nothing and returns the favor, waffling between the security of his wealth and the unexamined convictions of his guilt.

Santo Loquasto’s scenic design conveys a solid sense of structure and well-established prestige, a little too much to match implications made about this law firm in the script. Tom Broecker’s costume design and Brian MacDevitt’s lighting design were both adequate. This play is dressed up in a lawyer’s words and attire but abandons both in the end to drown in cliché accusations.

Charging a full, Broadway-priced ticket for this production is almost criminal. If Mamet was offering this play as some sort of reparation then African-Americans should be asking for their money back. - C. Jefferson Thom

cj_thom

Mr. Thom lives in New York City and walks dogs, writes plays, and loves dissecting pop culture.

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