New ‘Race’ cast swaps sleaze for depth

[from nypost.com]

Wen David Mamet’s play “Race” opened on Broadway in December, I called it a “bewildering muddle” that “sinks into absurdity.”

What a difference a new cast can make.

The brash plot still feels gratuitously provocative and defies plausibility, but the show — directed by Mamet himself — is now less in our face, more layered. And for that we can thank British actor Eddie Izzard and US President (well, on TV’s “24” at least) Dennis Haysbert, who have just stepped in for James Spader and David Alan Grier, respectively.

Mamet throws out one taunt after another as a rich white man (Richard Thomas) asks a pair of lawyers (Izzard, Haysbert) to defend him in a rape case involving a black woman.

The first time around, this premise felt like a mere pretext for a series of incendiary aphorisms designed to provoke uncomfortable laughs. Spader was particularly fun as he delivered a tour de force of manipulative sleaze, while Grier stayed on the surface, a glibly obnoxious second banana. Both came across like fast-talking hustlers.

The verbal jousting is played down now. Izzard’s attorney comes across as much nicer — with an undercurrent of passive-aggression — while Haysbert exudes an authority that Grier sorely missed. This levels the playing field between them — and since their young associate (Afton C. Williamson, replacing Kerry Washington) boasts increased cunning, the power plays that link the three have gained
in intricacy.

Adding another layer is Thomas, the original cast’s sole survivor. He’s grown in strength, and his character now sports a fascinating mix of arrogance and prideful shame, like a Kennedy apologizing for a wrong deed out of a sense of noblesse oblige.

“Race” is still a clunky play, but it’s become a lot more interesting to watch.

Written by Momo in: Race Reviews |

Dennis Haysbert and Eddie Izzard run the ‘Race’

[from newjerseynewsroom.com]

David Mamet’s cool comedy on a hot topic, “Race” received short shrift from some of my colleagues when it bowed on Broadway last December.

But here we are in July and “Race” keeps on running at the Barrymore, where three fresh actors have taken over for James Spader, David Alan Grier and Kerry Washington.

Best known as the President on TV’s “24” series, Dennis Haysbert neatly teams up with Eddie Izzard, the British comedian-actor-marathoner, as two slick law partners dealing with a tricky client who swears he did not rape a certain young woman in a size 2 red-sequin dress. Afton C. Williamson now portrays the legal eagles’ newly-hired associate who makes several mistakes that later prove to be not so accidental.
Original cast member Richard Thomas remains with the production as the rich guy wriggling on the hot seat of public opinion.

American perceptions on race from black and white viewpoints are raised for sardonic laughs by Mamet in this slim though sharp comedy. It’s not Mamet’s greatest play, but it’s a smart, engrossing 90 minutes sure to make viewers shake or nod their heads in recognition at some of the nasty truths he exposes.

“Race” gets off to a very fast start and a recent performance saw the new actors struggle a bit to keep up with Mamet’s swift exposition of the situation. But after a tentative beginning, they settle into a confident groove and the comedy soon rocks the house with significant laughter.

Under Mamet’s direction, Haysbert and Izzard take a slightly more realistic approach to the material than their predecessors, so the play’s bleak message resonates with greater force.

Haysbert possesses a soft voice and a grave, authoritative manner. Izzard wears a goatee and a prickly sense of discomfort. Williamson invests the cipher in the pencil skirt with considerable poise. Thomas’ multi-layered portrait of a wounded billionaire has acquired some oily tints that make his character even richer than before.

“Race” continues its open-end run at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, 243 W. 47th St., New York. Call (212) 239-6200 or visit www.broadwaysbestshows.com.

Written by Momo in: Race Reviews |

Race — Theater Review

[from The Hollywood Reporter]

Bottom Line: Thanks to its terrific new cast, David Mamet’s problematic legal drama is well worth a second look.
The new cast of David Mamet’s “Race” represents a perfect example of how to inject fresh life into a long-running Broadway show. Replacing original stars James Spader, the Tony-nominated David Alan Grier and Kerry Washington are Eddie Izzard, Dennis Haysbert and Washington’s understudy, Afton C. Williamson. The mesmerizing results demonstrate that this legal drama should prove catnip to actors in subsequent productions.

Upon second viewing, “Race” proves no less problematic or contrived in its depiction of the efforts of a racially mixed law team to defend a rich white man against charges of raping his black girlfriend. Although clearly meant to be an incendiary portrait of how racial attitudes affect all human interactions, the play’s ideas never coalesce in sufficiently thoughtful or meaningful fashion.

But there is no denying the playwright’s gifts for creating colorful characters and especially compellingly stylized dialogue, both of which are on ample display here.

As Jack Lawson, Spader was in fine, ripping form, but his performance was necessarily hampered by his character’s resemblance to Alan Shore, the ethically challenged lawyer he played so memorably in “The Practice” and the long-running “Boston Legal.”

Izzard has no such associations. The performer, still best known for his stand-up work, has been building an increasingly impressive resume of acting credentials through the years that has not garnered sufficient attention. Adopting a flawless American accent, he delivers a smooth, understated turn that beautifully conveys the character’s cagey, ruthless smarts.

Making his Broadway debut, Haysbert — best known for his President David Palmer on “24,” not to mention his ubiquitous Allstate Insurance commercials — is less overtly comical than the naturally funny Grier as the black partner. But his massive physical presence and deep bass voice give him natural stage presence, and he provides an air of quietly thoughtful menace that ratchets up the tension in fine fashion.

Williamson fulfills the demands of her role admirably, but like her predecessor, she is hampered by the playwright’s continued inability to create female characters who come across as anything other than one-dimensional and schematic.

Continuing in his pivotal if underwritten role as the sleazily racist defendant, the cast-against-type Richard Thomas, skillfully playing against his wholesome image, has only gotten better.

Written by Momo in: Race Reviews |

A New Team Tackles Mamet’s Moral Fable of Pride, Prejudice and Susceptibility

[from NY Times]

Eddie Izzard has the face of a fallen angel, of a rumpled cherub who grew up way too fast once he landed in hell. That face alone makes this British actor and comic a solid choice for the role of Jack Lawson, the Mephistophelean lawyer in “Race,” David Mamet’s terse moral fable of pride and prejudices at the Ethel Barrymore Theater. True, James Spader had played the part to near perfection when the show opened in December. But I had hopes that Mr. Izzard, a brilliant stand-up portraitist of human perversity, might give a jolt of shock therapy to an often glib and mechanical play.

Yet he is on deflatingly good behavior in this recently recast production, directed by Mr. Mamet, whose other new additions are Dennis Haysbert and Afton C. Williamson as Jack’s professional colleagues. (The ever-assured Richard Thomas remains as their affluent client, a white man accused of raping a black woman.) Mr. Izzard’s performance is smart and sensitive, but it generally feels more submissive than subversive. From the beginning he registers more as a self-deluding patsy than a super con man.

The patsy has always lurked in Jack’s smooth persona. (It’s a Mamet play, remember; somebody has to get suckered.) And the revelation of his susceptibility is for me, the most humanizing aspect of “Race,” in which the other three characters mostly register as movable points on a plot grid. Mr. Izzard has a self-questioning vulnerability from the get-go, though. He’s a take-down waiting to happen.

He also still seemed slightly unsure of his lines at the performance I attended, as did the booming-voiced Mr. Haysbert. The sustained locomotive surge of words rushing forward toward collision, a requisite for a Mamet production, was only rarely in evidence. That may change as these actors grow more familiar with their roles. As it is, one is too aware of an author pushing characters into place.

Ms. Williamson is an improvement on Kerry Washington, her predecessor as Susan, an attractive young woman with a murky agenda. The part could still use more varied inflection than it’s given here. In the one scene that flies, Jack and Susan go mano a mano alone.

Even more than Mr. Spader did, Mr. Izzard shows a sudden, raw eagerness to get it right with a person of another gender and skin color. A charge of fraught chemistry courses briefly onstage, giving new resonance to Jack’s first-act curtain line, in which he suggests that sexual and racial tensions are sometimes one and the same.

Written by Momo in: Race Reviews |

Eddie Izzard has a rough night

[from NYPost.com]

It was a rocky start for noted British cross-dressing comic Eddie Izzard and former “24” president Dennis Haysbert, who have taken over the leads in David Mamet’s “Race” on Broadway. At Monday night’s performance, a spy reports the veteran actors “seemed unsteady and most forgetful of their lines,” but added: “Doing any Mamet play is no easy task and the dialogue is unwieldy. It was their first performance, hopefully things will improve as they get into the roles.” A rep for the show could not be reached.

Written by Momo in: Race Reviews |

Eddie Izzard earns his gold

[from Ottawa Citizen]

The World According to Eddie Izzard is furnished with its own comedic logic.

It is a linguistic playground where he juggles with words and groups of words.

Occasionally, he meanders aimlessly to a dead end and finds there is nothing either meaningful or funny left to say. Whoops. He mimes the writing of a note to himself on the palm of his hand: “Don’t go there again, Eddie — at least not until you can find a punch line.”

Izzard graced the stage of the National Arts Centre on Friday dressed in jeans and tails — stiletto heels on his feet, extravagant makeup on his face and bright red polish on his nails; a drag queen without the dress, hair and other accoutrement.

The drag/transvestite shtick has served him well, but lately, he has been appearing sans dress — one stiletto in, one stiletto out, perhaps a deliberate weaning process for the segment of his loyal audience who prefer to see him in gowns.

He says repeatedly that he’s a transvestite but like many Englishmen who have made handsome livings dressing up onstage as flamboyant women, he has borrowed from a theatrical tradition that dates back to when Shakespeare was a lad.

He has been deliberately vague about his sexuality, referring to himself as a straight transvestite or male lesbian or a complete boy plus half a girl — it’s all on his Wikipedia page. He is what he is; whatever he is.

Most important, of course, he can be very funny.

Like all skilled and seasoned stand-up comedians, Izzard tethers himself to a theme and floats on a stream of free association.

Sometimes he’s brilliant, buoyant and side-splittingly hilarious; at other times he struggles and sags.

He was trying out some new material.

“That’ll be funny in a couple of days,” he said, after one of his riffs petered out.

When it didn’t work, he did the “note to self” thing, made a joke of it and everybody laughed. A smart safety net to save a wounded gag from death

Izzard’s theme on this short Canadian tour is ‘Eddie’s History of the World’ from start to where we’re at now. As a warm-up he digs weakly at the Royal Family — an easy target in the colonies — and moves on to God before delving into creationism and Darwinism.

He got into his stride and seemed more comfortable after the intermission. He was at his funniest and smartest during a 15-minute or so ramble about the evolution of language, replete with pidgin Latin –pidgin everything really.

The capacity crowd greeted him with a rapturous standing ovation and bid him farewell with equal enthusiasm.

That’s gold for any performer and Eddie’s earned it.

Written by Momo in: Tour Reviews |

Eddie Izzard rocks the Queen

[from Vancouverobserver.com]

I can’t say I’ve ever been to a performance where the standing ovation happened at the beginning of the show before a single word had been uttered, but that’s exactly what happened Friday night when Eddie Izzard stepped onto the stage at the Queen Elizabeth theatre. Now that’s what I call an entrance.

His reputation obviously precedes him and Mr. Izzard does not disappoint.

Strutting onto the stage in red satin lined tails and stilettos for his newest show Stripped, he was in top form, his natural wit and intelligence undeniable.

The crowd roared as Mr. Izzard crossed the stage telling his version of the history of evolution.

His timing was impeccable, bantering with the audience as he moved through his routine, some of it rehearsed, some not, all the while intertwining the stories as he went along.

It wasn’t until I turned to my left to catch my date sliding down his seat in a fit of laughter that I noticed the audience around us. People leaning forward in their seats, hanging on every word, hankies dabbing at their eyes, the whole room was alive with laughter.

It was a remarkable night. The amount of joy this one man was giving all these people was tantamount to his talent and expertise, and a lesson to anyone wishing to unite an entire group of people regardless of age, sex, race, or religion.

Humour is an extraordinary gift. A gift that can bring a room of strangers together in an instance and hold it there ’til it pees its pants before it’ll miss a word it has to say.

Funny, we could change the world with that.

Written by Momo in: Tour Reviews |

Eddie Izzard proves there’s method in his comic madness

[from the Vancouver Sun]

Eddie Izzard is many things: actor, marathon runner, charity fund-raiser and, yes, self-proclaimed transvestite.

He’s also a first-rate comedian. Now more than halfway through the Canadian leg of his Stripped Tour — he’s not in drag for this one — Izzard brought his sharp brand of comedy to Vancouver Friday night for the first of two shows at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre.

The British comic isn’t everybody’s cup of tea. Often absurd and tangential, Izzard’s stream-of-consciousness approach doesn’t follow a traditional comic trajectory. It’s observational, to be sure, but it’s far removed from the material of an everyman’s comic such as Jerry Seinfeld or the oft-hilarious and occasionally offensive Chris Rock.

Izzard instead takes his audience on a nonsensical adventure where the journey is the destination. It’s easy to get lost in his mumbled minefield, which offers plenty of explosive material along the way.

Wearing a black tuxedo jacket with tails, black T-shirt and jeans– with a healthy dose of eyeshadow on his heavily made-up face — Izzard localized things immediately with a quip about Captain Vancouver, “Canada’s first superhero.”

Religion provided a rather large target for Izzard in the early proceedings. It’s not mean-spirited stuff, though; Izzard prefers to comment on things like gods living up in the clouds, where visibility is poor. “Who would live there?” he asked rhetorically.

There’s no fog when it comes to his overall view on religion, though his description of himself as a “spiritual atheist” might confound some in the holier set.

Where Izzard shines, though, is in his ability to make a polished act seem completely spontaneous in its delivery, even pretending to get lost occasionally. He’s so good at it, in fact, that when he wondered aloud where he was, a few folks in the audience felt compelled to shout out verbal cues to help jog his memory. “Thank you, script supervisor,” he said after one gentleman offered some unwanted assistance.

All this, of course, just provided more laughs.

Some of Izzard’s material veers into the realm of Monty Python. Quite silly, really. “Why weren’t there any dinosaur poets?” got a good laugh, though often it seems to be his frenetic delivery that drives the crowd’s positive reaction to the jokes.

But that’s comedy, isn’t it? “Ten per cent content, 90 per cent yelling,” Seinfeld told talk-show host Jimmy Fallon this week, the point being that the method is often as important as the madness behind it.

Izzard’s method is madness, of course, but there’s certainly a good dose of incisive intelligence in the mix.

Some jokes are too long, which can diminish the payoff: His Noah’s Ark bit felt like it floated aimlessly for 40 days and 40 nights.

Then again, comedy is a subjective enterprise. Izzard is rarely gutwrenchingly funny, but he’s genuinely entertaining to watch.

Although, to be perfectly honest, he’s sexier in heels.

Written by Momo in: Tour,Tour Reviews |

Listen closely to Izzard’s clever patter and you’ll enjoy great payoffs

[from timescolonist.com]

What: Eddie Izzard

Where: Royal Theatre

When: Last night

Rating: **** 1/2 stars (out of five)

Seconds after stepping on the Royal Theatre’s stage, Eddie Izzard announced he was confounded by our city’s name.

The popular British comedian had done usual “hello Victoria” greeting before stopping himself. “I shouted out the name of a queen from the 1800s,” he said slyly. “ That’s a bit weird.”

The Canadian leg of Izzard’s Stripped tour brought him here after stops in Toronto, Winnipeg, Regina and Calgary (tonight he embarks on a two-night stint at Vancouver’s Queen Elizabeth Theatre). As promised the comic, a self-proclaimed transvestite, was in “boy mode.” So… no dress. Still, for Izzard, dressing as a guy apparently means accessorizing ones tailcoat and jeans with high heels, eye-shadow and rouge.

For the first hour, Izzard — one of the globe’s sharpest comics — talked about God and the evolution of religion. This may not sound a laugh riot; and to be sure, one had to pay close attention to his clever patter. Yet payoffs were there in abundance.

Much of Izzard’s shtick revolved around the inherent absurdities of Christian lore. For instance, how could someone like God tolerant a nasty chap like Adolph Hitler?

“If there was a God, he would have flipped Hitler’s head off,” Izzard said. He then did a funny little routine about der Führer’s troops who, pleased about their leader’s ability to pop off his noggin, chant “Nazis… number one!”

What makes Izzard (who’s also a TV and film actor) different from other stand-up comics is the dizzying speed of his wit, his utter comfortableness on stage and, above all, his deliciously-honed sense of the absurd. The latter somehow seems a distinctly British sensibility — Izzard eschews the raw brashness of a Chris Rock, for instance, in favour of that loopy sense of surreal embraced by Monty Python.

Throughout, there’s a gentleness to what he does. One observer has called this approach “the velvet razor.” Put another way, the equally brilliant Billy Connolly slaps us on the back like a high-IQ pub companion on an absolute roll. Izzard is also energetic, yet there’s more of an eye-winking, subtle sense of style to his delivery; he’s like the Oxford undergrad shifting into high gear at a martini party.

Last night’s show included a potted history of the world, based on information Izzard cheerfully admitted he’d culled from Google and DVDs. Take dinosaurs roaming the earth for 200 million years. What sort of deity would allow this? “That’s got to be God on crack,” Izzard declared.

When following his idiosyncratic logic threatened to become wearisome, Izzard took care to pepper his act with crowd-pleasing bits. We were, for instance, treated to an impersonation of self-important dinosaur poets. Then he pretended to be a Raptor pulled over for speeding.

Later, Izzard pondered the precise moment when humans officially entered the Stone Age. He imitated a prehistoric man who, encountering a bison stuck in a swamp, suddenly decides to bonk his prey with a stone.

“Why have I never thought of this before? It’s so f—ing obvious,” Izzard said with a grin.

(Note: Due to deadline restraints, the reviewer left before the two-hour-plus performance ended.)

Written by Momo in: Tour,Tour Reviews |

Izzit an Izzard, or izzit an art?

[from artslink.co.za]

Christina Kennedy: English stand-up comedian (and “off-duty transvestite”) Eddie Izzard is currently packing out venues across South Africa, proving once again that Saffers love a good laugh.

But should we be concerned that it’s only the big international names that attract mega-audiences, while local comics languish in envious self-pity in their damp, rat-infested garrets? Somehow, I don’t think there’s cause for concern (and occasionally languishing in the odd garret is great for character-building, anyway).

In recent years we’ve seen the likes of Chris Rock, Steve Wright and Wayne Brady playing to sold-out houses here. Last year, Irish comedian Jimeoin also enjoyed capacity audiences on the Main programme of the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown.

My feeling is that rather than taking audiences (and ronts) away from South African comedians, these international bigwigs rather serve to enhance and enrich the local stand-up comedy scene. Some, like Rock, have even made impromptu appearances at local comedy clubs. Others have South Africans opening for them (Jimeoin had Dave Levinsohn warming up the audience last year – and it was a revelation being introduced to this seriously funny dude).

All of these visits by overseas laughmongers (and the efforts of comedy-crazy broadcasters like Alex Jay) seemed to have helped stoke interest in the local stand-up scene. This is evident by the success of the various festivals and comedy jams around the country, and by the fact that comics like David Kau, Barry Hilton, Riaad Moosa, Stuart Taylor, Nik Rabinowitz, John Vlismas and Marc Lottering appear to be earning a decent living out of standing on a stage and making daft observations.

Izzard is in the country for a series of shows, travelling to Cape Town and Durban and ending on Sunday at the Joburg Theatre, in support of Nelson Mandela’s 46664 campaign. With tickets priced at up to R1000, it’s just as well the proceeds are going to charity. But clearly laughaholics are coughing up nonetheless – recession, what recession?

What I found particularly interesting about Izzard’s Joburg show on Wednesday night was the broad, international flavour of his humour. I often ask South African comedians what they talk about on stage when they tour overseas, because surely much of the subject matter that local crowds howl at falls on stony silence in foreign climes. Naturally, they try to talk about more general topics.

I would say that Izzard has got that comedian’s wet dream ideal of “universal humour” – clichéd though it may sound – down to a fine art.

He started off the show rather stiltedly and much of the laughter from the audience appeared brittle and forced – you know, the whole “rock star” awe thing. But he came back after interval on fire: seemingly revived and suitably wired and manic, perhaps fortified by the surprise birthday cake and choral serenade that rounded off the first half.

In between holding forth on the wretched “terms and conditions” of software updates and extolling the virtues of Wikipedia, Izzard went on an wildly wacky trek through the history books, from the big bang to the stone age to the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. Sort of a “Horrible Histories meets A Short History of Nearly Everything (but very much abridged, simplified and subverted). If I’d had this bloke as my history teacher, I might actually have stayed awake in class!

You see, Izzard’s humour is not base or crass. His entertaining stream-of-consciousness ramblings (I nicked that bit from Wikipedia – his secular bible) – which all seem unrelated but, implausibly, seem to connect to each other at some stage during the show – are feverishly well-informed and fiendishly clever, and you need to concentrate to keep up. Not that it’s at all snobby or snooty, but you could say he delivers upper-LSM laughs.

The show – attended by local luminaries as well as the likes of Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson – was a total hoot. Even God seemed inclined to join in, tossing in some menacing thunder rumbles overhead after Izzard made no bones about his atheism and repeatedly invited the Almighty to pop in and prove him wrong!

Written by Momo in: Tour Reviews |


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