photo: Robert J. Saferstein
David Mamet's sharky waters can make many an actor belly up but James Spader cuts a course through the territory with killer ferocity. Lean and hyperfocused, his central performance as a no-nonsense, hip-shooting attorney is the reason to see this otherwise thin, far less provocative than advertised drama. The central plot concerns the legal defense of a noted, affluent middle aged white man (Richard Thomas) accused of raping a black woman. Mamet means to get in our faces as the lawyers (Spader, along with an excellent but underused David Alan Grier) suss out how to work the jury, but he doesn't really have anything substantive to say on the subject; it just keeps coming back to everyone feels guilty and everyone is out for themselves. Thomas has the extremely challenging job of playing a character who by design has to seem equally credible as guilty and innocent to the audience - he does the job, but his performance seems strategic at every moment. If you are familiar with Mamet you can easily predict what's going on with the young black female in the law office - it's not a real character but an idea of one, and Kerry Washington doesn't overcome its artificiality. Nonetheless there is genuine theatrical pleasure in watching Spader do a hustling, cunning Mamet man - he's a magnetic force on stage despite this being his debut, and he speaks the dialogue like he's spitting out nails.