BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
David Mamet's cool comedy on a hot topic, "Race" received short shrift from some of my colleagues when it bowed on Broadway last December.
But here we are in July and "Race" keeps on running at the Barrymore, where three fresh actors have taken over for James Spader, David Alan Grier and Kerry Washington.
Best known as the President on TV's "24" series, Dennis Haysbert neatly teams up with Eddie Izzard, the British comedian-actor-marathoner, as two slick law partners dealing with a tricky client who swears he did not rape a certain young woman in a size 2 red-sequin dress. Afton C. Williamson now portrays the legal eagles' newly-hired associate who makes several mistakes that later prove to be not so accidental.Original cast member Richard Thomas remains with the production as the rich guy wriggling on the hot seat of public opinion.
American perceptions on race from black and white viewpoints are raised for sardonic laughs by Mamet in this slim though sharp comedy. It's not Mamet's greatest play, but it's a smart, engrossing 90 minutes sure to make viewers shake or nod their heads in recognition at some of the nasty truths he exposes.
"Race" gets off to a very fast start and a recent performance saw the new actors struggle a bit to keep up with Mamet's swift exposition of the situation. But after a tentative beginning, they settle into a confident groove and the comedy soon rocks the house with significant laughter.
Under Mamet's direction, Haysbert and Izzard take a slightly more realistic approach to the material than their predecessors, so the play's bleak message resonates with greater force.
Haysbert possesses a soft voice and a grave, authoritative manner. Izzard wears a goatee and a prickly sense of discomfort. Williamson invests the cipher in the pencil skirt with considerable poise. Thomas' multi-layered portrait of a wounded billionaire has acquired some oily tints that make his character even richer than before.
"Race" continues its open-end run at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, 243 W. 47th St., New York. Call (212) 239-6200 or visit www.broadwaysbestshows.com.
ALSO BY MICHAEL SOMMERS