During last week’s snowstorm, I took sanctuary indoors with David Mamet’s new Broadway play, Race. Mamet’s latest production is another verbally-bombastic emotional journey, this time set solely inside a law office as two partners (James Spader and David Alan Grier) and their younger associate (Kerry Washington) debate a case brought to them by a wealthy businessman (Richard Thomas). The case: wealthy Charles Strickland has been accused of raping his mistress, but questions of racism emerge after details about the interracial relationship come to light. Within the staff of the law firm, this creates more tension and debate over race relations in 2010. The young associate, who is black, confronts her white boss about double-standards and begins to doubt the security of her own workplace. Meanwhile, her white boss is forced to defend himself despite some errors in judgment. If Race, which runs a brisk 90 minutes, suffers from anything it’s that the play feels too short.
The ideas are big, the dialogue is smart, and the performances are intriguing. Spader and Washington, in particular, give audiences a fiery sparring match as they discuss the intricacies of prejudice in the working world. In the hands of other playwrights, these topics and issues could have been used for a heavy-handed mess. Instead, with Mamet, you have a spiked sense of humor and phrasing that keeps you on your toes. Race may not be the kind of escapist good time people seek in Broadway shows, but it more than delivers a captivating evening of entertainment.