PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Race — The Stop-Start Mamet

By Harry Haun
07 Dec 2009

Race stars David Alan Grier, James Spader, Kerry Washington and Richard Thomas; guests Val Kilmer, Eva Longoria Parker and Alec Baldwin
Race stars David Alan Grier, James Spader, Kerry Washington and Richard Thomas; guests Val Kilmer, Eva Longoria Parker and Alec Baldwin
Photo by Aubrey Reuben

Meet the first-nighters at the opening of Broadway's Race.

David Mamet sightings at his Broadway openings are so next-to-nonexistent it almost amounts to a minor miracle that the cast of Race could coax him onto the stage Dec. 6 for the opening-night curtain call at the Barrymore.

Most first-nighters took it for a mirage, this fleeting historic sight of the author-director squirming in the spotlight a full five seconds, shifting from side to side, hands in his pockets, before bolting back into the wings. Photographers with fast lenses probably feared when their film was developed, there'd be no Mamet there.

It was perhaps pushing it to expect Mamet to show up at his own opening-night party. The staff at The Redeyed Grill didn't even bother to assign him a table.

But then, all things considered, it had been quite a day for Mamet. At 4:19 PM the figurative curtain fell on his Oleanna at the Golden, and at 8:14 PM the literal curtain rose on his Race at the Barrymore. The good news, to some minds anyway, is that this eliminates the possibility of confusing the two. Race, despite the title and much verbal fire-and-thunder on the subject being tossed about in the 33-minute first act, is another round in Mamet's on-going Battle of the Sexes which animated, and amplified, Oleanna and Speed-the-Plow.

James Spader, who won three Emmys during his five seasons of "Boston Legal," is the high-priced, wheeler-dealering legal eagle commanding the stage—a sprawling office which set designer Santo Loquasto has lined in law books.

Spader and his African-American associate, David Alan Grier, are interviewing a potential client (Richard Thomas), a wealthy married man in need of black-and-white representation, having been accused of raping a black woman in a hotel.

Lounging wordlessly in the background, her long-stemmed legs dangling lazily over a railing, is Susan (the silent?), an African-American paralegal (the Broadway-debuting Kerry Washington). As distractions go, she pretty much upstages the case, which never gets to court—or, for that matter, out of this room. New and larger concerns arise: cherchez la backstabber.

View the Entire Photo Gallery
James Spader
Photo by Aubrey Reuben
"What I like about the play," said the lady in the case when she paraded before the press on the Grill's second floor (mercifully free from the madding crowd below), "is how complicated it is. My character definitely has the last word—literally, has the last word, which is fun—but I like that these are very, very complicated three-dimensional characters. There is no real good guy, there is no real bad guy."

Like Washington, Spader is only now getting around to his Broadway bow, having hidden out in plain sight on television and in features. He downplayed the lawful connection between his "Boston Legal" character, Alan Shore, and the Jack Lawson he plays in Race. "I don't think they'd get along very well," he contended.

Still, the lawyer suit fits him to a T, and he exudes great credibility and authority wearing it. His side of it: "It didn't have anything to do with law. It really had to do with this material and working with David. The material was something I was so excited about. And, from the very first moment that I met David, there's a feeling of comfort and joy of being there and working with him. I absolutely cannot imagine doing this play without him directing it. For me, it was more than half the experience. I am so grateful. He's a wonderful director. For me, he's as good a director as he is a playwright. The sort of thrilling charge that the material has, David has—and to bring that every single day to rehearsal and to discussion and conversation and, then, to performance—infuses and informs the production."  Continued...