12/14/2009 03:26 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Mamet Goes for the Jugular: Race

Mamet Goes for the Jugular: Race

David Mamet does not so much explore the title topic of his new play as eviscerate it. Despite the brevity, an hour and 47 minutes with intermission, I was exhausted/ exhilarated by his familiar tropes: the rapid-fire dialogue, the non-PC conceits. We are in the era when blacks can do anything whites can do, achieve high office (a la Obama), become a fashion icon (a la Michelle), rule media empires (Oprah), engage in marital improprieties (Woods), and get away with murder (O. J. lingers).

This is the American way: None of these freedoms now surprise anyone, and yet, in preparing a case, when a senior white male lawyer suggests to a junior female in his firm that she, being petite and pretty and black, should model an important piece of evidence, a tell-tale red sequined sheath worn by a black woman alleging rape by a wealthy white client, Mamet's searing vision makes us aware of just how far we go, where we are in our subconscious vs. our language, unrepressed and hanging hideous in the air.

This is also a time when the movie Precious-- the writer, director, and producers all black--raises the haunches of the community for pandering in stereotypes. No matter how well reviewed, how humanistic these characters are deemed, many refuse to see it, suggesting limits in stories where race is an issue, no matter who tells them.

In the words of David Alan Grier's character Henry Brown, "Do you know what a white man can tell a black man about race? Nothing." Is this playwright speaking about himself?

Here directing his own drama, Mamet-in this well-staged, concise play, his pitch-perfect quartet (the superb ensemble: James Spader, Kerry Washington, and Richard Thomas joining David Alan Grier) illustrates just how skin-deep gestures regarding race remain as we operate in our little verbal fiefdoms.