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

By Harry Haun
07 Dec 2009

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Grier was quick to pick up the Mamet pompoms, too. "He loves theatre and the craft of theatre, and he loves actors," he said. "I've worked with a lot of directors where I've come away thinking, 'I don't know if they love actors at all,' but David is a big softie. We cracked jokes a lot. It was a real surprise and joy to work with him."

Previously Grier appeared on Broadway in musicals (The First, Dreamgirls, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum), and he considers his record still intact because of the musicality of Mamet's writing. "Even when we go up on our lines, we will improvise to the rhythm of the writing until the other actor can jump in there and get us back on track. It's rare to see this kind of dialogue and conflict going on between two African-American characters—between me and Kerry—who are divided by generation, politics and social world view. To see that and interact and do that on stage—that's what attracted me."

As the accused who kinda becomes the forgotten man in the ensuing verbal donnybrook, Thomas couldn't be happier with his lot. After all, this is a long way from "Last Summer" and Walton's Mountain. "I love this character," he readily admitted. "I think that it's a perfectly written role. There's not a wasted syllable. It's a very minimalist role, which is wonderful because I'm a maximalist actor, so it's great that I get a chance to play such a stark and simple part. It's a difficult role because you have to let the audience think whatever they want to. You can't tell them what to feel about this character. Great challenge, wonderful play."

In his Playbill bio, Thomas notes this is his 51st year as a Broadway actor (he began at 7 replacing Jeffrey Rowland as John Roosevelt in Sunrise at Campobello). "I don't have a favorite role, but I'd have to say Fifth of July is particularly important to me because it's the role that brought me back to Broadway."

As befits Mamet's standing in the theatre world, the opening was properly star-drenched. Woody Allen and Jerry Seinfeld arrived with wives, and Roseanne Barr came with her TV sister, Laurie Metcalf.

"Amadeus" Oscar winner F. Murray Abraham, stagging it, dutifully returned his extra ticket and party pass and wound up spending the evening in deep conversation with Marian Seldes. Having just wrapped "The Rose and the Rabbit," he's heading for his home-away-from home: "I'll be going to Italy just shortly after Christmas. I have a place in Italy, and I do at least a film a year there."

Daniel Davis, Georges in the interim (2004) La Cage aux Folles and Niles the bulter to Fran Drescher's "The Nanny," mingled among the party guests. "I'm a guest of Mr. Thomas, who is an old and dear friend and his son is my godchild," explained Davis, who's in the throes of coast-switching these days. "I've just moved back to New York. I left Los Angeles, and I've come home." Perchance to work? He smiled. "There's a play in the spring that I have my fingers crossed about."

Michael Mayer, who directed and co-wrote Green Day's American Idiot, which premiered to raves at the Berkeley Rep in September, has his fingers crossed as well. "It will happen at some point," he vowed. "Whether it will be this spring or later—I wish that I had the crystal ball that could tell me . . ."

Harvey Weinstein was at the producer's battle station, viewing the play from the back of the house, mustering smiles of acknowledgement for passers-by.

Also attending the Race opening were Rev. Al Sharpton, Val Kilmer, Gayle King, the cast of The Understudy (Julie White, Justin Kirk and Mark-Paul Gosselaar), Edie Falco, Laura Moss, Tim DeKay of TV's "White Collar," Anthony Edwards, Sebastian Stan, Tony winners LaChanze and Billy Crudup, Josh Lucas, Carol Kane, Alec Baldwin, Tamara Tunie and crooner hubby Gregory Generet (fresh from a couple of sold-out nights at Feinstein's), Michael Feinstein (even fresher from Feinstein's where he just opened his Christmas show with David Hyde Pierce to critical cheers), Stephanie March, Emmy Rossum with Adam Duritz, Keith Powell, Chad Kimball from Memphis, Anne Meara and Jerry Stiller, Judith Light, Andrew McCarthy (too busy directing "Gossip Girl" to act these days), Anthony Mackie, Zeljko Ivanek, Eva Longoria Parker, Victor Rasuk, Penny Fuller, Jim Dale, Jonathan Crombie, Sarita Choudhury and, from The Old Neighborhood, longtime Mamet interpreter Patti LuPone.

The logo for the play is a dark female torso in a tight, curvy sequined dress. At the top of the second act, when the play was still pretending to be about race and getting the case to court, much is made of the rape victim having her red sequined dress torn off, and Washington is asked to wear it. That's not she on the cover of Playbill. The girl in the red sequined dress is a stock shot. In fact, the model was white, and the shot was specially treated so that the skin was darkened. How's that for playing the Race card?