Sunday, May 2, 2010

Bulletin from Broadway No. 8: 'Race'

Kerry Washington,‭ ‬James Spader,‭ ‬Richard Thomas
and David Alan Grier in‭ ‬Race.



By Hap Erstein


I had a‭ ‬6:30‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬flight home‭ ‬Saturday,‭ ‬so I wasn’t going to see a matinee,‭ ‬the first time a play would be on that I was not in a theater seat.

But a press agent recommended I see David Mamet’s latest play,‭ ‬Race.‭ ‬It’s only‭ ‬100‭ ‬minutes long including intermission and I’d heard good things about it,‭ ‬so why not,‭ ‬I figured.

Well,‭ ‬one reason is Mamet’s most recent output,‭ ‬a couple of inconsequential comedies,‭ ‬Romance‭ ‬and‭ ‬November,‭ ‬neither of which was A‭) ‬particularly funny or B‭) ‬worthy of Mamet.‭ ‬Race,‭ ‬however,‭ ‬turned out to be another electric male-female tug-of-war,‭ ‬not unlike‭ ‬Oleanna or‭ ‬Speed-the-Plow,‭ ‬dramatically heightened by racial perceptions.‭ ‬Like those other two Mamet plays,‭ ‬the premise is rather artificial,‭ ‬but such liabilities are glossed over by the juicy acting opportunities the volatile playwright gives his performers.

In this case,‭ ‬a wealthy white businessman‭ (‬Richard Thomas‭) ‬has been accused of raping a black woman in a hotel room and he comes to a law firm with one white partner‭ (‬James Spader‭) ‬and one black partner‭ (‬David Alan Grier‭)‬,‭ ‬seeking legal representation because of the psychological edge the team would afford him.‭ ‬As the case is revealed,‭ ‬like the layers of an onion,‭ ‬everyone’s prejudices are tested,‭ ‬including‭ ‬that of‭ ‬a young,‭ ‬attractive,‭ ‬black assistant lawyer‭ (‬Kerry Washington‭)‬.

The audience’s attitudes also get a workout,‭ ‬judging from the nervous laughter to lines that suggest we all see the world through a racial filter,‭ ‬blacks hate all whites,‭ ‬and whites see all blacks as inferior.‭ ‬Race may not be top-drawer Mamet,‭ ‬but he still knows how to generate heat onstage.

‭ * * *

Just before the opening curtain,‭ ‬I felt a tap on my shoulder.‭ ‬It was Bill Hayes,‭ ‬artistic director of Palm Beach Dramaworks,‭ ‬who happened to be in New York to hold auditions for his fall season,‭ ‬happened to be seeing‭ ‬Race at the same matinee performance,‭ ‬and happened to be on the same aisle as my wife and I were,‭ ‬a few rows behind me.‭

He caught me up on the latest happenings with the West Palm company‭ ‬--‭ ‬Peter Haig has signed to play opposite Barbara Bradshaw in‭ ‬The Gin Game this summer and,‭ ‬no,‭ ‬there is nothing new with Dramaworks‭’ ‬longtime search for a larger theater.

‭* * *

After the play,‭ ‬we collected our bags and headed to the airport,‭ ‬confident that we had plenty of time to make our flight.‭ ‬We did,‭ ‬but it was not until we arrived home that I heard about the parked SUV in Times Square with the suspected bomb that caused the evacuation of thousands of people from the area shortly after we were on the way to La Guardia.‭ ‬I often jokingly say it is a successful trip to New York when I avoid being mugged.‭ ‬I guess I will have to include not becoming the victim of terrorist bombings,‭ ‬too.‭

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