BOTTOM LINE: An important play by an important playwright about an important idea, playing right in the heart of Manhattan – it's old school intellectual.
Okay – off the bat, let me tell you that I got to see this play on opening night, and that was REALLY cool. It was classic Broadway, right at the intersection of art and politics, with lots of sexy names and faces at the premiere. Shall I name drop? I shall!
The big names were Woody Allen with Soon Yi (they left right at the curtain call), Harvey Weinstein, Al Sharpton (love ya, you press-hound!), Eva Longoria and Alec Baldwin (the man has a Huge head); it was still cool to see Jerry Seinfeld, Val Kilmer (wearing a funky Aussie cowboy hat), Isabella Rosellini and Oprah's BFF Gayle King. And of course the cast is star-studded, too: James Spader, David Alan Grier, Richard "John Boy" Thomas, and Kerry Washington. To top it all off, the paparazzi took pictures of me outside and asked if I was famous!
Oh, right, you want to hear about the play!
Rich White Man (Thomas) has become embroiled in a sex scandal with his black mistress, in which he allegedly raped her after an argument at a hotel. The evidence is damning, the papers are eating it up, and the racial tensions are high. Still proclaiming his innocence, RWM has dumped his high profile attorney and come to a new upstart firm led by two attorneys, one white (Spader, at his pugnacious best) and one black (Grier, in a fine display of subdued rage). Suspicious of the case, its public profile, and the motives/guilt of RWM, they do not want the case, but the young, attractive, black female associate that Spader is grooming makes two procedural mistakes which obligate them to represent RWM.
As we interrogate the evening of the alleged rape, every question is tinged with racial overtones, and everyone is well aware of the fact. Is RWM here because he wants a black attorney to defend him? Did the Yale-educated associate make a mistake in taking the case, or was she actively trying to make a political statement? Is Spader a generous mentor, or does he have ulterior motives with the associate? Are the facts of these questions nearly as important as they way they are perceived?
I use the abbreviation RWM specifically, as my one technical issue with the play was that this character was never really fleshed out. Either the writing or Thomas's stilted acting choice (under Mamet's own direction) left me with the feeling that we were to see him as a concept, not a real person, hence the abbreviation. I understand the idea, but it left a little emotional void at the center of the play.
Other than that, it's classic David Mamet – brisk, brutally honest and full of expletives. It may also be one of his more introspective plays. There are no answers here – only frank discussion of the guilt and shame of all parties involved in the racial equations at the heart of the issue. Are whites feeling guilty for their past participation in the oppression of blacks? Do blacks feel shame for their continued powerlessness and their past subservience? No one can escape, and nothing is as it seems.
There are some hard themes in here and it can be uncomfortable at times, but Mamet keeps the dialogue blazing, and understands that in matters like these, it's best to hit hard and fast and get out. It's only a short hour and ten minute play (if that) but you'll come away with enough to talk about for hours.