Let me tell you about David Mamet: He’s 64 years old, hasn’t written anything really good since Ronin and hates women.
If you’ve ever seen a Mamet play, you already knew that last bit. His female characters are self-serving manipulators (Speed-the-Plow, Oleanna), victims (Glengarry Glen Ross) or lesbians, who as far as Mamet is concerned are just men with boobs (Boston Marriage). So it should come as no surprise that the characters in a play explicitly about race relations in America should agree only that bitches ain’t shit.
In Race, a pair of private attorneys, one white (Todd Van Voris) and one black (Reginald Andre Jackson), attempt to construct a defense for a millionaire white guy (Jim Iorio) accused of raping a black woman. They are hindered by their client’s reluctance to discuss the incident, the incompetence of their assistant (Ayanna Berkshire playing an apparently bright black woman and graduate of a prestigious law school whom they have for some reason hired as a secretary), and a shared speech impediment that forces them to speak only in epigrams.
The key problem of defending their client is not that he may be a rapist, of course, but that he is white and his accuser is black. And so, although the play begins with an admission that there is nothing a white man can say to a black man on the subject of race, Mamet spends 80 minutes explaining the differences ’tween white folks and black. In short: Blacks hate whites, and whites fear blacks.
Not that it matters. The twists of Race’s thin plot turn on the question of which of its women is more treacherous. The accuser might be lying or the assistant might be a saboteur, unwilling to aid a rapist. Although, if so, why is she working for private attorneys and not a prosecutor? It’s implied that hiring a woman at all is unusual in the legal industry. Dumb broad. High five, Dave!
The play’s cultural context is as dated as its sexual politics. The most recent racially charged incident mentioned is not Hurricane Katrina or Obama’s election or the rise of the birthers. It’s the O.J. Simpson trial, a subject as old-fashioned as Mamet’s conviction that he knows what it’s like to be black because he is Jewish.
Artists Rep’s production is satisfactory, but not so good as to overcome the playwright’s flaws. Director Tamara Fisch’s adept blocking smooths the play’s lurching transitions. Jackson quietly outperforms Van Voris’ thundering orations with taut energy and maybe a deep, simmering well of resentment. Iorio seems as nervous as a rich man caught raping the cookie jar should. The dick-wagging patter flows fluidly, but not quickly enough. Once you realize you’re not in for a drama so much as a dramatized Thanksgiving Day rant by someone’s loud, gynophobic, neocon uncle, even 80 minutes is too much to happily endure.
SEE IT: Race is at Artists Repertory Theatre, 1515 SW Morrison St., 241-1278, artistsrep.org. 7:30 pm Tuesdays-Saturdays, 2 and 7:30 pm Sundays. Through April 8. $25-$50, $20 students.