[img]http://hits.guardian.co.uk/b/ss/guardiangu-feeds/1/H.20.3/5742?ns=guardian&pageName=Race+%7C+Theatre+review%3AArticle%3A1315316&ch=Stage&c3=GU.co.uk&c4=Theatre%2CDavid+Mamet+%28Culture+section%29%2CStage%2CUS+news%2CRace+issues+%28News%29%2CWorld+news&c6=Mark+Lawson&c7=09-Dec-06&c8=1315316&c9=Article&c10=News%2CReview&c11=Stage&c13=&c25=&c30=content&h2=GU%2FStage%2FTheatre[/img]Barrymore Theatre, New York
David Mamet wrote one of the most controversial plays of the late 20th century with Oleanna, in which a female student accuses her professor of sexual harassment. And in the Broadway season that includes a revival of that 1992 drama, Mamet has added a savage companion piece dealing with another heat-seeking political topic, declared in the play's title: race.
As the posters jokingly note, a dramatist celebrated for introducing expletives to the American theatre now tackles a truly taboo four-letter word. Race, as one character says, is "the single most incendiary topic in our history". Another speaker observes that "only black people can speak about race," a carefully placed self-defensive punch from a white playwright entering this verbally and politically charged arena.
As in Oleanna, Mamet approaches the subject through an accusation. A white tycoon, charged with raping a young black woman, has selected to represent him a law firm in which one of the two partners is African-American, as is the clerk working for the attorneys on the case. The play's strategy is to examine – and to tempt an audience to second-guess – the part that racial background may play in the decision over whether to represent the alleged racist rapist. The white partner contends that the case is unwinnable because white jurors will fear being accused of racism and black jurors of treachery if they acquit.
This line is also clearly a warning to the audience – again, as in Oleanna, cast as pseudo-jurors – to police their own reactions to the situations presented. As cleverly as in The Winslow Boy, the Terence Rattigan courtroom drama Mamet once adapted as a movie, the interpretation of details – a red dress, a comment overheard through a motel wall – shifts.
Above such twists, though, Mamet is most concerned with the power and treachery of language: a line of dialogue vital to the prosecution case is cynically rewritten by the defence. Mamet's larger contention is that attempts to create a more equal and tolerant society have made race an unsayable word. The writer, who has faced claims that his plays require TV-style bleep machines, brilliantly contrives here a moment in which the single most taboo sexual expletive is ignored by an audience which then gasps at the word "black".
Mamet directs a swift, gripping, 100-minute staging cast with sharp attention to TV history. James Spader is known for Sex, Lies and Videotape and the TV series Boston Legal, while, as the defendant, Richard Thomas brings the moral baggage of his long involvement in The Waltons. Kerry Washington, as the law clerk on whom the play turns, appeared in Neil La Bute's film Lakeview Terrace, a thought-provoking racial drama from a white dramatist, and has here found another for her Broadway debut. Mamet remains American theatre's most urgent five-letter word.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2009 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds
View the full article
Guardian: Race | Theatre review
No replies to this topic
0 user(s) are reading this topic
0 members, 0 guests, 0 anonymous users