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 |

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