‘Race’ – You’ll Be Dying to Know

[from Liz Smith]

THE PLAYWRIGHT David Mamet is not someone whose work I ever want to miss. His kind of cynical wisdom onstage in his serious plays never fails to draw shocked laughter from the audience that can dissect the wisdom in his contempt. I think, for instance, that the very profane and shocking language of “Glengarry Glen Ross” turns that play into an American masterpiece. It’s like listening to perfect serious music.

And while I didn’t much like his out-and-out comedy spoof of the Bush presidency, titled “November,” which starred the talented Nathan Lane, I am very taken with his serious dramas. So I was late getting to his latest at the Ethel Barrymore Theater. “Race,” which Mamet directed, had already lost three of its major actors retaining only the popular Richard Thomas and adding new shocks in the persons of Eddie Izzard, Dennis Haysbert and the dazzling leading lady, Afton C. Williamson.

“Race” says it all, taking race relations to a new high (or is it a new low?). The setting is the big conference room of a law office. The client is a wealthy, white, spoiled WASP, a man to whom nobody has ever said “No!”

The play opens with two partners, Izzard and Haysbert, trying to talk this rich client out of their representing him, trying to show him that he’ll probably be found guilty of raping a black woman and that he most likely can’t win. Izzard is his quirky self, off-hand, brilliant and shrewd. Haysbert is large, forbidding, dispassionately full of hatred, elegance and contempt.

Interestingly enough, though, the play functions on the question of race; these two partners, one white, one black, never tell us anything much about their relationship to one another. They are simply out to win, to make money, to dash the competition – and they are as one – in looking down on intelligences other than their own, very sure of themselves. Their gorgeous law clerk, Ms. Williamson, seems to be a match for both of them.

You’ll be dying to know what happens in “Race.” Who wins, who loses, who forces who into a corner! All the most corrupt factions of what you love in “Law & Order” are here in this, the law part. It’s fascinating.

I thought the four actors were all splendid, Mr. Haysbert, who is familiar to us on TV as the president in “24,” makes his stage debut … Mr. Izzard, who keeps burying the fact that he is such a great actor under his comic façade, is irresistible as the partner-bastard. (Maybe you saw him in the offbeat series drama about white gypsies in America – “The Riches.” Unbelievably good!) Ms. Williamson is a find; great to look at, queenly and imperious in her intelligence – and in her morals too. But I was really overwhelmed by the considerable talents of Richard Thomas. The Playbill says this TV idol from the long-ago “Waltons” has been on Broadway for 51 years! Here, his rich man is a masterful, prissy, self-contained, confused, conflicted, well-tailored mess. It is quite a portrait.

“Race” is another riveting David Mamet play, full of horrible laughs, guilt, truths, pragmatism run wild and a shocking ending. Don’t miss it.

And I really mean – don’t miss it! This fabulous show closes on August 21. Run – don’t walk – for tickets.

Written by Momo in: Race Reviews |

NY1 Theater Review: “Race”

[from brooklyn.ny1.com]

Credit David Mamet and a slick production for the success of “Race,” a thin play that’s run a lot longer than I expected. While the drama still disappoints, a cast change adds a nice shot of adrenaline to a show that’s nearing the finish line.

“Race” is intended to be a highly provocative riff on the controversial topic of racial dynamics. But David Mamet offers no insights and instead manages to reinforce a bunch of stereotypes centering on not only race but gender, lawyers and privileged rich people.

Still, Mamet, who also directed, is a pro. While the work is intellectually flawed, he certainly knows how to keep an audience entertained. His signature staccato rhythms featuring tons of profanity-laced dialogue is very much in place, and it’s titillating to hear such toxic language.

Eddie Izzard, taking over for James Spader, plays attorney Jack Lawson, who’s trying to decide whether to take the case of a wealthy white businessman accused of raping a black woman. Lawson’s partner, Henry Brown, is now being played by Dennis Haysbert, replacing David Alan Grier.

The casting is a plus for the most part, adding dimension to the characters. Haysbert, who seemed to struggle a bit with his lines, is a commanding presence and his interpretation reveals Henry to be less a bigoted reactionary than a jaded cynic.

Afton C. Williamson in the sketchy role of a young associate adds more credibility than Kerry Washington.

Richard Thomas, continuing as the accused rapist, still can’t do much with a confounding part.

Izzard delivers an intelligent performance, turning Jack more human and visibly conflicted. What was a single-minded opportunist in the original company is still a shark but one with a more pronounced conscience and a sliver of a heart.

“Race” remains one of Mamet’s lesser plays, but thanks to a company that brings new shades to the work, it’s not quite so black and white anymore.


Written by Momo in: Race Reviews,video |

Eddie Izzard Speaks Perfect American in Mamet’s Recast `Race’: John Simon

[from Bloomberg.com]

David Mamet’s “Race” continues its successful Broadway run with three new actors out of four, including Britain’s Eddie Izzard, better known for his comic monologues.

Richard Thomas, as Charles Strickland, a married billionaire accused of raping a young black woman in a hotel room, is the sole holdover from the original cast.

The law firm to which Charles has shifted his case consists of a white lawyer, Jack Lawson (Izzard), and a black one, Henry Brown (Dennis Haysbert), and a recent hire, Susan (no last name), an attractive young black associate (Afton C. Williamson). Charles has left his previous lawyer, a Jew, because of the more favorable impression a mixed-race team presumably would make on a jury.

Charles insists on his innocence. The two experienced lawyers have their doubts and Susan is convinced that he is guilty for reasons best known to herself. But do the facts of the case, whatever they are, matter? As cynical Jack puts it, “There are no facts of the case. There are two fictions which the opposing teams seek to impress on the jury.”

This wouldn’t be a Mamet play if sex and sexual politics didn’t play a role. More important, however, is how questions of race might influence not only judge and jury but the proposed defense lawyers, who may seem racists if they win the case, incompetent if they lose it.

There are revelations and counterrevelations galore and everything doesn’t always come across as logical, even as the dialogue is often a bit too cutely epigrammatic. Mamet, to be sure, has two modes: the naturalistic one, in which speech is often pause-riddled, stammering, barely coherent; and the comic one, in which people are smarter, swifter, wittier than they would be in real life.

Minor Climaxes

“Race” dances on the cusp between the two modes. Mamet has also directed, keeping the characters moving around aptly, and the tempo cleverly building to minor climaxes.

Izzard, though English, manages to sound, first of all, perfectly American. He does not have the boyish charm of James Spader, who originated the role, but this works well, giving Jack more of the apposite old-fox quality. We can even wonder whether Susan’s youth and good looks affect him more than they would a younger man.

Haysbert, taller, more formidable, more sardonic and even slightly menacing, is more effective than the original cast’s David Alan Grier — this despite the fact that Haysbert’s diction is somewhat less clear.

Williamson is not unlike the original Susan, guarded and provocative, and perhaps a trifle sexier than was Kerry Washington, albeit with a voice that takes a bit of getting used to.

The play has lost nothing by recasting, which cannot always be claimed for long runs. And whatever flaws it may have, it decidedly holds our interest even if in some minor ways we may feel cheated.

Through Aug. 21 at Barrymore Theater, 243 W. 47th St. Tickets: +1-212-239-6200; http://www.telecharge.com.

Rating: ***

Written by Momo in: Race Reviews |

Izzard defends panned Broadway debut

[from hollywood.com]

The British comic took over the lead role in the production, previously played by James Spader, last month (21Jun10).

Broadway’s notoriously tough critics panned his performance on his opening night for forgetting his lines and stumbling through his first show.

But Izzard doesn’t think he deserves the harsh comments he received – because he only had three weeks of rehearsals and one week of previews before the press weighed in on his performance.

He tells New York Magazine, “What do they expect? I came in very fast. Do they think that no one ever gets a line wrong on Broadway, ever? There should come and try and do it for a weekend.”

But Izzard is refusing to let the bad reviews get him down – he’s using them as motivation to perfect his lines and redeem himself.

He says: “I’m a determined little bugger.”

Written by Momo in: Race Reviews |

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 |


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