Sunday, December 06, 2009
photo: Robert J. Saferstein
A wealthy white man (Richard Thomas) stands accused of raping a black woman. Claiming that it was consensual, he has enlisted the services of a particular law firm for one chief reason: both its founding partner, Henry Brown (David Alan Grier), and young associate (Kerry Washington) are African American. Also on the scene is Jack Lawson (James Spader), Brown's white partner, who has conflicted feelings about the nature of the case but decides to focus on a specific factual aspect that, if true, would all but assure acquittal. David Mamet has sidestepped the issue of identity politics in previous plays, but Race is his first evening-long exploration of the topic. It is also his finest work in years. Spader and Grier are both brilliant as best friends and business partners who, try as they might, cannot escape the inbred associations of their races; the former shows not a trace of the legal-eagle showboating for which he became famous on television, and the latter taps into the conflicted nature of his character terrifically. Though his role is slightly underwritten, Thomas strongly conveys the duality of his character: your opinion of his guilt or innocence changes from moment to moment, as it should. And despite early preview reports claiming that she was out of her league, Washington (at the critics' performance I attended) more than held her own against her more-seasoned co-stars and delivered a richly layered performance in one of the most complex female roles Mamet has ever written. Very highly recommended.