I always find David Mamet’s work captivating and intriguing. Race, is in Chicago for the first time at Goodman Theatre. Resident Director Chuck Smith, who directs Mamet’s work for the first time, has cast a four-member ensemble including Patrick Clear (King Lear, The Clean House); Marc Grapey (Vigils; Dead Man’s Cell Phone at Steppenwolf Theatre Company); Geoffrey Owens (The Cosby Show; Julius Caesar at Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C.) and Tamberla Perry (In the Next Room or the vibrator play at Victory Gardens Theater, Eclipsed at Northlight Theatre).
Race begins as two lawyers—Henry (Geoffrey Owens) who is black, and Jack (Marc Grapey) who is white—are contacted and asked to defend a wealthy white client Charles (Patrick Clear) who is charged with the rape of an African American woman. The client admits that he was intimate with his accuser but vehemently denies the charges of rape, insisting that the sex was consensual and that he and the woman were in love. The two lawyers want to mull over the potential pitfalls in accepting the case in private. They ask their new associate, Susan (Tamberla Perry), a young Ivy-League educated black attorney to step out of the room with Charles. When they learn that Susan has accepted a check, they are stuck with the case.
Though the story initially sounds a lot like the Dominique Strauss-Kahn headlines we were inundated with not long ago, the play came first, opening in New York in 2009, and it really deals with the lawyers’ who are hired to defend the client as they struggle to find the truth. Mamet’s plays are characterized by the rhythmic and staccato quality of the language he uses. In Race, the acting was superb, the timing perfection – it sizzled with energy and I was riveted. The search for the truth is suspenseful, insightful and compelling. Race rears its ugly head as each of the characters is tainted by prejudices they didn’t realize they had.
But Mamet is aiming at each character’s weaknesses and places them under pressure to see what happens to them. In fact, as it says in the Playbill notes, “Everyone, in the world of Race, is capable of exploiting others – and they don’t hesitate to use another person’s race or gender as a reason to take advantage. All of the characters –black or white, male or female – seem ultimately to be working towards their own agendas, using any available means”.
During intermission I spent some time watching the TV monitor in the lobby, which showed the play in rehearsal but without sound. Watching director, Chuck Smith, with the cast he seemed to be getting the most from the actors, resulting in an outstanding evening of theater.
The set (Linda Buchanan) was the perfect law office. The costumes (Birgit Rattenborg Wise) were consistent and convincing as was the lighting (Robert Christen).
The ninety minutes of theater left me exhausted, fulfilled and with enough to thinking about for days. If you like Mamet, you will love Race.
Race runs January 14 – February 19, 2012 in the Goodman’s Albert Theatre. Tickets ($25 - $89) can be purchased at GoodmanTheatre.org, by phone at 312.443.3800 or at the box office (170 North Dearborn).
Photos: Erik Y. Exit