Eddie Izzard, Dennis Haysbert, and Richard Thomas
in Race
(© Carol Rosegg)
Eddie Izzard, Dennis Haysbert, and Richard Thomas
in Race
(© Carol Rosegg)
Eddie Izzard, Dennis Haysbert, and Afton C. Williamson are breathing new life into David Mamet's legal drama Race, at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. Not only do they prove as effective as their predecessors; in some ways, this new group of actors are even better.

As the play begins, we learn that Charles Strickland (continuing cast member Richard Thomas), a rich, white man, has been accused of raping a younger, African-American woman. Law partners Jack Lawson (Izzard) and Henry Brown (Haysbert) are at first unsure of whether or not to take the case, but the actions of their recent hire Susan (Williamson) makes their decision for them.

Jack is white, while both Henry and Susan are African-American, and you can be sure that Mamet explores the volatile dynamic of the firm's racial make-up as they decide upon the best way to represent their client. Mamet serves up provocative and often hilarious pronouncements about race relations, but while a lot of the dialogue is played for laughs, there's a serious undercurrent that runs throughout the play and some statements made are far more loaded than initially apparent.

Izzard delivers a dynamic, yet understated performance. He oozes charisma, and has a good rapport with his co-stars. Haysbert -- who was still a little unsure of some of his lines at the performance I attended -- has an intensity about him that gives his Henry a great deal of depth, particularly when Henry simply silently stares down another character.

The real surprise, however, is Williamson, who plays the underwritten role of Susan with a fierce intelligence, and an undercurrent of anger that leaps to the fore at certain moments and then retreats again to leave a smiling façade that is both charming and somewhat unsettling. Thomas has grown into his part since I first saw the play, and there's a moment in the second act in which Charles momentarily loses his temper that is particularly noteworthy.

The new cast is unlikely to change anyone's opinions of the work itself, which still has a few plot points that stretch credulity and an overall similarity in theme to other Mamet plays like Oleanna and Speed-the-Plow. But all four actors tackle Mamet's lyrical yet gritty verbiage with gusto, and the overall production does not disappoint.