Friday, July 9, 2010

New Cast of Race

Half a year since opening on Broadway to harshly negative reviews, David Mamet's new play "Race" remains one of the most one-dimensional and broadly sketched plays of his established career. And with a mostly fresh cast on hand, it hasn't gotten much better. Just slower.

So slow, in fact, that the show is now runs about twenty minutes longer than before. But worst of all, the "Mamet speak" - the fast-paced, overlapping, rat-a-tat delivery of dialogue that is essential to any Mamet play - is now sorely lacking.

The drama concerns two criminal lawyers (Eddie Izzard and Dennis Haysbert) and a young female clerk (Afton C. Williamson) with a hidden agenda. The sudden opportunity to defend a rich and famous white man (Richard Thomas) accused of raping a black girl leads to an extended debate about how everyone thinks in terms of race.

While James Spader, who originated the role of Jack Lawson, did not exactly give a deep performance, he exhuded the same confrontational intensity of his "Boston Legal" character Alan Shore. British comedian Eddie Izzard, surprisingly, goes for a more tentative and subdued approach that is far less exciting to watch.

Dennis Haysbert, best known as President David Palmer on TV's "24," similarly tries a different approach than David Alan Grier as fellow attorney Henry Brown. Whereas Grier was combative and restless in the role, Haysbert tries to do more with less by relying mainly on his deep voice and large presence.

Afton C. Williamson, who was Kerry Washington's understudy, is a vast improvement over her predecessor, whose performance was a wooden as the set design.

If not much else, "Race" is a sincere attempt at creating a cultural dialogue, though it is undermined by Mamet's fondness for shallow plots and unwillingness to create complex characters.

(If You Go) "Race" plays at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre through August 23.
243 W. 47th St., 212-239-6200, raceonbroadway.com.

Timeline of recent David Mamet productions on Broadway

2005 - Revival of "Glengarry Glen Ross" with Alan Alda and Liev Schrieber
2007 - Premiere of "November" starring Nathan Lane
2008 - Revival of "Speed-the-Plow" with Jeremy Piven, who is later replaced by William H. Macy due to alleged "mercury poisoning"
2008 - Flop revival of "American Buffalo" with John Leguizamo and Cedric the Entertainer
2009 - Flop revival of "Oleanna" with Julia Stiles and Bill Pullman
2010 - Revival of "A Life in the Theater" with Patrick Stewart and T.R. Knight


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