Alexa

New `Race' cast has charisma, seeks rhythm

 In this theater publicity image released by Jeffrey Richards Associates, from left,Eddie Izzard, Dennis Haysbert and Richard Thomas are shown in a sc...
 In this theater publicity image released by Jeffrey Richards Associates, Dennis Haysbert is shown in a scene from David Mamet's, "Race," in New York....

Theater Review Race

In this theater publicity image released by Jeffrey Richards Associates, from left,Eddie Izzard, Dennis Haysbert and Richard Thomas are shown in a sc...

Theater Review Race

In this theater publicity image released by Jeffrey Richards Associates, Dennis Haysbert is shown in a scene from David Mamet's, "Race," in New York....

At its best, a David Mamet play feels like a symphony of words, with its own peculiar rhythms and sudden swells of speed, power and volume _ liberally sprinkled with notes of profanity, of course.
"Race," Mamet's provocative play about race, sex, guilt and how they all intersect, has the potential to achieve this effect. But with its new cast, it is not quite there yet. Rather, it seems the orchestra _ the four actors _ still is getting to know its instruments.
Not that they do not have a compelling sound. Eddie Izzard, the ever-interesting British actor and standup comic, is a fascinating choice for the role formerly played by the smooth-talking James Spader: Jack Lawson, the white half of two law partners trying to defend a white man accused of raping a black woman (Richard Thomas, a holdover from the old cast).
He is joined by Dennis Haysbert, best known as the quietly authoritative president from TV's "24," as Henry Brown, Lawson's black partner (color must be mentioned here, because it infuses everything in "Race") and Afton C. Williamson as the firm's youngest member, with a hidden agenda of her own that only slowly becomes clear.
"Race," which is both written and directed by Mamet, opened last December to mixed reviews. Some found it slight or glib; others found the typically bracing Mamet dialogue enough to capture their attention.
That dialogue is still potent from the opening moment. "You want to tell me about black folks?" Henry is asking, provocatively. We, the audience, feel like we have lifted the stage curtain ourselves and interrupted a conversation; a very fraught one.
As the conversation continues over two acts _ it might have been more effective without a break, considering the relative brevity of the play _ the characters goad each other, and us, with views on race and sex that we may not share, but certainly sound and feel familiar.
Izzard is always absorbing to watch. Interestingly, as a performer who often cross-dresses and channels his inner Monty Python, in "Race," he is pretty much a straight arrow, _ looking like any overworked lawyer, a little pasty in his three-piece suit.
His Lawson makes no bones about the lack of higher moral purpose in his calling. "I get paid either way," he tells his client. Or: "There are no facts of the case. There are two fictions." But he tries, with waning success, to navigate the treacherous waters of race and sex, in life and in the workplace, as best he can.
As Henry, Haysbert has both a commanding physical presence and a soft voice that makes you want to listen to what he is saying, especially when he is angry.
The obstacle, in a recent performance, was that the actor did not seem wholly assured of his lines. (Izzard wasn't totally immune to such lapses,either.) These moments did pass quickly, but from then on, when an actor halted, it wasn't clear if it was intentional or not. It also made for a little confusion in moments when Jack and Henry step on each other's words: Was it meant to be that way?
As Susan, who throws a wrench into the plans of her two bosses, Williamson has moved up from understudy and cuts a striking figure onstage. More memorable is Thomas, whose role is less fully drawn than those of the two leads but manages to paint a nuanced picture of a man who is not even quite sure himself whether he is guilty or innocent, and of what.
"Race" runs through Aug. 21.


Updated : 2021-04-19 10:22 GMT+08:00