New Repertory Theatre’s smart, hip production of David Mamet’s RACE (playing through Nov. 4th) does for lawyers what he did for real estate salesmen in GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS. These attorneys are cut-throat and nasty and they’re hilarious. Mamet revels in men behaving badly—from the petty thieves in AMERICAN BUFFALO to the property hustlers in GLENGARRY to the lawyers in RACE who are happy to represent anyone for any crime because they get to “play” a jury.
Mamet deals in stereotypes. (He’s never been accused of creating deep, meaningful drama.) The characters in RACE are tropes but Mamet nonetheless can hammer home some resonant truths. The case here is race: a rich white man (not unlike Dominique Strauss-Kahn and the chambermaid) is accused of raping a black woman. “Same case. Same place,” says the lawyer. “Fifty years [ago]. You’re innocent.”
That cagey Mamet. He’s written a piece which will affect each audience member differently. Three lawyers on stage with three opinions about how to present the case: two are experienced, one is not. One is a white man and the other two are black, one woman and one man.
Of the audience members I’ve talked to, the white men blame the woman (for the outcome of the play). The white and black women I’ve talked to side with her and a few (Boy, this is hard to say without giving anything away) said, “It’s about time.” Now obviously, I haven’t talked to everyone but Mamet has crafted a play which manipulates some of us to care more about comeuppance than innocence.
Director Robert Walsh drives the play like a bullet train. It went by so fast, it left me wanting more. I have to hand it to Mamet. He’s conjured up a “pageant” just like the “show” his lawyers put on to influence a jury. What a cast New Rep has to “interrupt [our] thinking process.” Miranda Craigwell is perfection as the bright new hire at the firm, fresh out of law school, eager to learn the game. Ken Cheeseman postures and patronizes the new “girl” (girl?) as he brags about his legal prowess. He and Cliff Odle are simply outrageous as the new “old boy” network.
Odle’s comic timing is relentless as he holds forth on race, getting laughs by the carload from his sardonic take on the subject. Mamet hasn’t been this funny in a long time. Patrick Shea has the extremely difficult task of portraying the clueless, rarified CEO who thinks it’s OK to make racial jokes and maybe even to rape (if he’s guilty). Shea pulls it off. You just shake your head in amazement that someone would be so out of touch with reality.
Janie E. Howland’s slick office set (with no personal effects) and Scott Pinckney’s harsh fluorescents speak volumes about these lawyers. Charles Schoonmaker costumes Craigwell in chic right down to her toes, showing us she may be new but she knows how to make a classy impression.