Goodman Theatre Stages an Amazing “Race”

No modern playwright parlays such precise elegance with the English language than David Mamet. Using small casts and usually a uni-set design, Mr. Mamet consistently relies on strong, well developed characters who each has a unique way of speaking to expose the boils in humanity. The end result is usually a morality powerhouse of a production, as seen in his hits such as ‘Speed The Plow’, ‘Oleanna’ and of course ‘Glengary Glen Ross’. In, ‘Race’, which ran on Broadway in 2009-2010, and now at the Goodman, Mamet keeps his successful formula intact. 

‘Race’, as the title suggest, delves into our societal observations of the politically correct and the realities of that correctness. The play takes place in a small law firm as a new billionaire client “retains” the firm to defend him against a charge of raping a young black woman. As one of the partners in the firm is black and the other is white (and Jewish), there is instant banter on how much should race play into the defense and how much of a circus the criminal justice system is in the process of trying a case. The plot gets moved ahead quickly by the young attorney the firm recently hired, who is also black but comes with an agenda all her own. The dialogue is brilliant, the soul searching is immense and more than anything, the acting is off the charts.

As the two long time friends and partners in the firm, Marc Grapey (Jack Lawson) and Geoffrey Owens (Henry Brown) are simply sensational. They have great on stage chemistry together and respect each others’ timing. The two actors actually listen to each other on stage and their reactions to each other are visceral. Much of the gravitas of the subject matter comes from humor and Mr. Owens delivery is unmatched. Mr. Owens has been taught comic timing by the master, Bill Cosby, and you can see the early influences in the way Owens listens, pauses, digests then delivers a line. He takes the play unto a whole other level.

Tamberla Perry, who plays the new hire, Susan, leaves her best for last. As much of the script is given over to the two partners, it is not until the last 15 minutes that Ms. Perry gets to unleash her acting chops, and she does so with great effect. As billionaire accused rapist Charles Strickland, Patrick Clear gives just the right balance of arrogance and ignorance and is the perfect catalyst for the subject of race to be dissected.

Director Chuck Smith keeps the action moving at a very quick and efficient pace and, as always, extracts the best from each of his actors by letting them trust in each other and the material. Linda Buchanan’s set design is stunning in its simplicity and masculinity and never takes away from what the actors are accomplishing.

Race runs through February 19th at the Goodman’s Albert Theatre. 170 N. Dearborn St., Chicago. Tickets can be purchased at the box office, by phone (312) 443-3800, or by visiting www.GoodmanTheatre.org. All photos by Eric Y. Exit.