‘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 |

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