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Center Theatre Group

"DeWanda Wise and Chris Bauer
Race is David Mamet's best play since Oleanna, but, that being said, it's still a fairly minor addition to the canon. It doesn't have anything new or interesting to say about current racial relations, but it works as a mild dig at our legal system. The new production at the Kirk Douglas Theatre benefits from a terrific lead performance by Chris Bauer, but otherwise is only necessary viewing for Mamet fans.

Businessman Charles Strickland (Jonno Roberts) has been accused of rape by a young woman, a charge he says is untrue. The victim in question is African American, which adds a racial component to his case. To this end he has sought out the services of a law firm whose two partners he thinks can help him: Jack Lawson (Chris Bauer) is white and Henry Brown (Dominic Hoffman) is black. Jack thinks he can win the case for Strickland, but Jack's African-American assistant Susan's (DeWanda Wise) certainty that the businessman is guilty complicates the proceedings.

If one has only seen Bauer's work on "True Blood," his sharp, commanding portrayal of Jack may come as a surprise. Bauer projects authority and intellect as the lawyer, along with a faint exasperation that others don't already know things he regards as obvious. It's a charismatic and skilled performance. Hoffman hits all the right notes in the largely humorous role of Henry, but Roberts is stuck with a generic character as Strickland and has little to work with. Wise is fine as Susan, but as written, her character feels more like a plot device than a person. Not insignificantly, Susan is the only character not given a last name—Mamet didn't give it that much thought.

Scott Zigler's direction is spare, seemingly following Mamet's famed injunction to actors to "just say the words." Jeffrey P. Eisenmann's legal conference room set is handsome, if a bit sterile. Mamet is surprisingly close mouthed about race relations for a play titled Race, essentially following his own advice in the play that white people don't get to talk about race. He does, however, have fun with the legal profession, averring that trials are merely a contest between two competing fictions. The plot between Jack and Susan, unfortunately, is essentially a retread of Speed-the-Plow with a slight difference at the conclusion.

Race plays at the Kirk Douglas Theatre through September 28, 2014. For tickets and information, see

Center Theatre Group presents Race by David Mamet. Directed by Scott Zigler. Scenic Design Jeffrey P. Eisenmann; Lighting Design Josh Epstein; Costume Design Leah Piehl; Production Stage Manager Kirsten Parker.

Henry Brown: Dominic Hoffman
Charles Strickland: Jonno Roberts
Jack Lawson: Chris Bauer
Susan: DeWanda Wise

Photo: Craig Schwartz

- Terry Morgan

- Terry Morgan

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