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 |

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