Can racism be entertaining? In the hands of David Mamet who has both written and directed “Race” his new compact, one hundred minute provocative play with an intermission and pregnant pause between the concise two scenes that make up Act II – which is now playing at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre – the answer is a resounding, surprising and disturbing yes.
With what lawyers charge per hour, “Race” is a bargain deal. And well worth a visit. David Mamet raises lots of questions and gives mighty few answers. All with taught, intelligent and racist humor that you might be asking yourself – “Why am I laughing at this?”
The “this” referring to some of the words used to describe black women and their private parts. And the true prejudicial feelings that all the characters at one time or another vent. “Race” is a well plotted and tricky study in the “he said, she said” vein.
Charles Strickland (a smug Richard Thomas) is wealthy, white, married and famous. He has been accused by his black girl friend of rape. He claims he is innocent. Sex was consensual. He has just come from another lawyer who for some reason did not want to represent him and so we find him auditioning in front of two other lawyers – the white Jack Lawson (a terrific James Spader in his most cynical Boston Public persona) and the black Henry Brown (white hot with a chip on his shoulder David Alan Grier). Lurking in the background, quietly observing, perched on a shelf lined with legal books in a vast conference room of the firm (a detailed and perfect set by Santo Loquasto) is the newly hired Susan (an intriguing Kerry Washington). She is young, beautiful, sharp and black. Showing lots of leg.
Will they take the stoic and problematic Strickland on as a client? Is he innocent? If they do take him on how will they present his case? How will they put on a better show for the jury? It’s a fascinating look at what transpires between lawyers and their clients. Finely acted by all. And very interestingly directed. Not static at all. They are thinking on their feet. Fast with the comeback. Fast with the slurs.
Mamet moves his actors as if they are chess pieces. Unobtrusively moving them here and there creating interesting stage pictures to complement the great dialogue resulting in a visual and aural treat.
Then there is the question of evidence. A red sequin dress. The mysterious, all important red sequin dress. For full disclosure you’ll have to see “Race”. Go and find out what really happened in that hotel room that night of the alleged rape. Racism has never been more entertaining.