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 |

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