Regional Reviews: St. Louis
Also see Richard's review of Urinetown
It looks, finally, as if anger may be the only genuine emotion of which David Mamet is capable. Not that anger isn't theatrical; in terms of pure physical impact, Race, his newest foray into the poetics of rage, is as powerful as anything he has done. But in the spaces between obscenities, where the substance of the play ought to emerge, there is only momentary absence, momentary respite from the assault. Race is a play without a protagonist, without a moral center, and with precious little communication. In lieu of dialog, the four characters engage in serial diatribes, mostly but not always aimed at one another. There is not only no coherence among these speeches, but no attempt at coherence; not only no development, thematic or dramatic, but no attempt at development. There is only a kind of quantum field of uncertainty upon which the four characters, like figures from an Elizabethan revenge tragedy, hack away at each other verbally until the figurative blood covers the stage.
The play is "about" an act of betrayal whose significance is so distorted by the irrational politics of racism as to be incomprehensible, an act which is itself predicated on an absurdity that only a writer of Mamet's genius could render convincing. Two law partners, one black, one white, interview a white tycoon who is accused of raping a black hotel maid. Tricked into taking his case, while not fully convinced of his innocence, they hit upon a possible defense (which, as my friend Gail astutely points out, would be instantly obviated by the presence of crime-scene photographs). That their concern is less for their client and more for the reputation of their firm is no secret, nor is their cynicism about the legal process and about human nature in general. Unfortunately for themselves, the partners have placed considerable trust in a bright young black woman whom they have hired as an assistant. She is no less cynical than they about the system, but her rage has given her at least a physical, if not a moral, compass. Her act of betrayal undermines her employers, but it wreaks vengeance on the tycoon, of whose guilt she is certain, not because of what he may or may not have done, but because of what he is.
Director Timothy Near, whose inspired conceptions of The Glass Menagerie and Buried Child are among my favorite Rep memories, wrings every last ounce of outrage from the script, and manages the Herculean task of making the experience at least feel coherent. Actors Morocco Omari and Jeff Talbot, as the salt-and-pepper partners, deserve great applause for the level of physical energy they achieve and sustain, and for mastering convincingly the sometimes idiosyncratic bits of Mamet-speak. Mark Eliot Wilson, as the tycoon, doesn't have a lot to do, but does it very smoothly. Zoey Martinson, as the assistant, is pitch-perfect in her character's ability to murder while she smiles.
John Ezell's set is gorgeous, but almost more than the script deservesor perhaps it is exactly the contrast between his cold, ordered metal and glass surfaces and the anarchic rage of the characters that he had in mind.
Rage is not a play for young audiences, and even mature audience are likely to be offended by Mamet's language and even more by the pointless fury of his characters, but it is powerful while it lasts. It will run through March 4 on the Browning Mainstage at the Repertory Theater of St. Louis. For ticket information, call 314 968 4925 or visit www.repstl.org.