Review of Race

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David Mamet should be applauded for addressing the provocative subject of race in his latest Broadway offering, entitled “Race.”  Race is presently running at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, starring James Spader, David Alan Grier, Richard Thomas and Kerry Washington. 

The play is penned in an edgy urban, cynical style that has become characteristic of Mamet’s writing.  A style dubbed “Mamet  speak” wherein oftentimes Mamet’s characters use manipulative, crude and  deceitful language, interrupting each other in mid-sentence thus invariably leaving dialouge unsaid.  There is much unsaid in Mamet’s play “Race” and in fact, at times assumed.  Stereotypes run amuck.  With Black women characterized as being more promiscuous than white women, it opens up to inspection why so many successful and famous black men marry white women?  And, when asked why this is, these black men respond because white women are easier, less trouble, more submissive and do what they are told wherein black women say no and appear angry.   I am sure both white and black women would have much to say about being so broadly scripted and stereotyped. 

However, Mamet’s play gives one pause to think because oftentimes in life things are left unsaid and presumed.  Mamet addresses the legal system in this play, comparing it to a form of show business.  He portrays the law as dealing not so much with guilt or innocence but with sleight of hand, manipulation, hook, spin, and rhetoric.  In other words, making certain the defense's form of gamesmanship entertains the jury sufficiently enough to get better jury ratings than that of their opponents.  Making it appear that the client’s guilt or innocence is irrelevant in the scheme of things.

Spader, Grier and Thomas are masters at their craft and seem comfortable on stage and are quite believable in their roles. Fresh from his hit show, Boston Legal, Spader appears to have fun with his character Jack Lawson who is partnered with Henry Brown (David Alan Grier).  These spicy salt and pepper legal beavers take on a case that neither want but are trapped into by their devious young associate, played by Kerry Washington. Washington appeared new to the stage and miscast in her role, oftentimes delivering her lines mechanically.  Indeed, even at the plays end she took her bows with a scowl, appearing angry.  On screen, I have found Ms. Washington to be a competent actress, so I can only hope time will improve her presentation.

“Race” cooks up a boiling pot of assumptions, innuendos, stereotypes, truths and half truths.  It addresses White guilt, almost to the point of disbelief.  The fact that Richard Thomas’s character (Charles Strickland) would suddenly have an epiphany as a rich white man about his guilt is unrealistic.  Especially since his guilt seemed to be borne more out of a realization that a longtime friendship he thought he had with a black male friend, was fragile and complex, if non existent.  Strickland feels more guilty about being unaware his insensitive jokes offended his black friend than of being accused of raping a black woman, a  crime his entire defense team believes him guilty of, yet are forced to defend against.  Also, it seemed implausible that a mere law associate would risk her law career and/or have the clout and wherewithal to trick and manipulate two experienced criminal lawyers as this play suggests.  This seems more a deep seeded angst the playwright may have concerning women since it’s not the first time this thread has been sown in a Mamet play.

One does not go to a Mamet play expecting sugarcoating.  Mamet writes from a more gritty street smart perspective.  If one expects Mamet to solve the issue of race, they will be sorely disappointed.  Mamet merely brushes the surface and opens up the subject matter for discussion.  While “Race” is thought provoking, it hardly gets to the depth of the issue.  It touches only subtly upon the mistrust between black folks with one another and the perception black folks may or may not have that whites will eventually stab black folks in the back; a perception that even Lawson brings up and doesn’t disavow.  In terms of black-on-black mistrust, Grier’s character looked harshly on the hire of the young black law associate (Washington) and was against her admittance to the firm, seeking to stymie her hire from the start.  If anything, via his play, Mamet gives it the ole college try, but proves he is just as befuddled, vulnerable, and bias when it comes to race as the rest of us. 

Perhaps therein lay the root of race in “Race.”  This transparent undercurrent of a presumption of superiority vs. inferiority that produces a rage so engulfing in those made the underclass, it cannot be extinguished so readily.  If indeed, as Mamet purports via his character Strickland that white men have nothing to say about race, then the ambers of race will continue to flame. And, by its very definition burn hot - smoldering in the underbrush, waiting to ignite into a raging fire that devours not only its victims but the very propagators of racial attitudes and all it engenders.

I recommend seeing “Race.”  If nothing else, its a good place to start.

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