I have long been an admirer of David Mamet, as most people would be who admire rapid-fire dialogue, twists and turns and the ultimate realization that most people have their own agendas, are weighted down with self=interest, and no reluctance to betray. Good is not a given in Mr. Mamet's world, and was nowhere visible at the star-studded opening of Race the other evening, including the after-party.
The play itself concerns a would-be client accused of rape(a believable Richard Thomas, though it's hard to imagine him as violent, or, for that matter overly sexual) of a very small law firm with a very big office-- too large for the play, really, not to mention its two lead-lawyers, James Spader and David Alan Grier, and a young associate, Kerry Washington. The set, stretched the full width of the stage, ostensibly because they had all those law books to show off,) literally overpowers the actors, quietly feral fierce as Mr. Spader always is, and as reasonable a foil for him as the vocally controlled Mr. Grier is. Miss Washington, as the young black associate is uninspired and ultimately disappointing, but perhaps that is the fault of this member of the audience, who was on the alert for perfidy, the bad-faith twist that usually ignites a Mamet piece.
Mr. Thomas, accused of raping a black woman(in a red sequin dress, an important factor in the indictment)comes to them after having exited another law firm, probably one with even more law books and a heavier staff, insisting he is innocent, that it was consentual, that they were lovers. Future sworn testimony in the upcoming trial includes overheard (by a white preacher in the hotel room next door) racist threats to the woman. The outcome of the trial will hinge on the surprise the cagey Mr. Spader-- not too far, if indeed hardly a tiptoe away from his role on Boston Legal-- has ready for the jury.
A little pat, perhaps, but still highly intelligent as Mr. Mamet usually is and Spader always seems.
But there is a worm in the apple. I will not spoil this for those of you who read reviews before going to the theater and tell you who and how, but it is, unfortunately, not hard to see coming, which is, in itself, a departure for Mamet, who can usually outmaneuver anyone in his plotting. Suffice it to say the play is not up to his customary par.
I was particularly disappointed as I am a longtime fan of Mr. Spader's, having watched his growth from the creepily pretty boy he was to the seductive and vulnerable young widower in 'White Castle,' my particular favorite in his film career, to the authorative, highly sexed and patently brilliant member of TVs most addictive law firm. I would also like to include, among my personal recollections, a time I opened my door in Beverly Glen on Halloween, to reveal his trick or treating for his children, which seemed so out of character for who I thought he was that I had more of a shock than was supplied by Mr. Mamet. So I was sorry that in this, his much-awaited Broadway debut, that he was not given more opportunity to show new facets, besides being allowed to shout. I do not know whether to blame the narrow confines of this appearance on Mamet the playwright or Mamet the director.
Later at the party, I moved among Broadway investors and acolytes and was awarded a close-up view of what seemed a non-stop hustle, as no matter how much money anyone had or seemed to have, they were looking for someone else's. Tt began to appear that maybe Mamet is not so much inventive as a careful observer, in a world where everybody is on the make,you better not trust anyone or you'll get a terrible surprise, and it won't just be in the theater.