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The Global Film Village: David Mamet Premieres RACE on Broadway

by Marla Lewin
image copyright Robert J. Saferstein 

I first met David Mamet in Chicago, at his St. Nicholas Theatre. I was the guest of actor Robert Strom, and I sat between him and David, it was American Buffalo.  Bob was planning to do a one man show on Charlie Chaplin, and I was to write my first script for him. Bob was a member of the St. Nicholas company.  David wanted to know if I was an actress?  He offered to assist us with the play. David was not yet internationally famous, although he was winning many Jeffs also known as the Joseph Jefferson Awards in Chicago for himself and the theatre.  I have watched his films since House of Cards, and have continued to be amazed by his mastery of the con. Bob used to tell me how David would ride buses into different neighborhoods to hear the voice of the every man which was evident in American Buffalo. Subsequently Bob decided to move to LA, and we never finished the play. But I did have the opportunity to watch most of Chaplin's classic films, which I will never forget. Some years later I also moved to Los Angeles and attended graduate film school at Loyola Marymount University.

Saturday night I saw David perched up in the balcony at the Ethel Barrymore Theater, observing the latest preview of his new work, Race.  With a cast of seasoned professionals including James Spader, David Allen Grier, Kerry Washington and Richard Thomas you can be assured that David's words are in capable hands. He is an artist and a technician and you see him noting that the laughs occur in the right places, the tension, the language, the biting dialogue, which has become his trademark.  At intermission you are sure he is backstage reassuring his brilliant actors they are on the mark. Kerry Washington his latest ingenue, is being introduced to Broadway with this play. She has previously appeared with James Spader in a six episode story arc on Boston Legal.

The theme of the play is race, and as I have heard actor James Spader explain, "it is about provocation".  David Allen Grier, said, its goal is to create conversation, "You are hearing words that have not yet been spoken on a public stage".  It is as if Boston Legal had been written by Mamet. Stripped down to its legal issues and the psychological and moral implications of this specific case.   David Mamet has stated that his most recent work "is a play about lies, that all stories are about lies".  There is a line in the play about a clergy man getting to say three of David's "common man words" that could convict  an innocent man. James Spader's character says that  "is a freeing experience". David's dialogue is sharp, often witty, it can twist a man's life. It is a play about sex and hidden agendas.  Is this also a play about the billionaires who have played the big con on America and the power they wield? After all, Broadway is not far from Wall Street, not far from the divides of the avenues, and the immigrants who came to New York full of dreams of golden paved streets.

David character's are never people you totally like, often vulnerable, desperate people who might just be victims of their own imperfect worlds. They live in the shadows of the darker side of humanity, whether in comedy or tragedy, he takes no prisoners. David character's often have little moral character. That is not to say that they are not fascinating in their complexity.

What should we expect?  Mamet  uses dialogue to question our preconceptions. It is enough for him and us that his legal team is confident and earnest in their beliefs. Mamet is concerned with the issues behind his story and digs into them with gusto.

I believe that we live in a time where the American world as we knew it has again shifted on its' axis, we want the truth. Mamet has won a Pulitzer Prize, and has long been considered one of America's greatest playwrights. Hopefully David's new play will get America talking, examining these issues beyond the gossip and absurdity for what has passed up till now as political conversation.

Recently, we saw a David Mamet adaption of The Voysey Inheritance in Beverly Hills, which was really terrific.  It parallels the Bernie Madoff scandal, using a classical story of families making and saving their fortunes at the expense of their clients. The amazing thing was this play was written almost a century ago. David has also re-examined other people's work in films as he did in The Winslow Boy. This has allowed him to bring these stories into our times.

I remember when he wrote The Untouchables, about the mob in Chicago and he also wrote the film The Verdict, about a lawyer played by Paul Newman. Many people became aware of David's work through the films that were made of his plays.  Glengarry Glen Ross explores the shady side of the real estate world, and his cast of Hollywood royalty, blew away the myth of the average man succeeding on his merit. Then there was Wag the Dog, adapted from a novel by Larry Beinhart that dealt with the world of politics, it was so prophetic it included a firefly girl in a beret.

Lately he has been directing the movie versions of many of his plays himself. I personally loved House of Cards, one of his first films, with his then wife Lindsay Krause. Homicide was one of my other favorites where he shows us the underbelly of prejudice that was haunting. State and Main which we saw at script stage, had a hilarious ensemble cast with many Mamet regulars including Bill Macy attached. This film allowed Mamet to show the aburdity of making a movie. It showed us sophisticated hollywood types being outsmarted by the rubes they expected to encounter in a small New England town.

Race will open on Broadway on Dec. 6th, and is in Previews now. The producers have created an intricate website for the play. The site could be an homage to Alfred Hitchcock because like in the master's trailer to ROPE this is the only place where you will see the evidence of the actual crime.

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About MarlaLewinGFV

Lewin Marla
(Global Film Village)

Marla is a producer, playwright, screenwriter, publicist and now a journalist. She attends 12 to 20 film festivals per year. She has spoken on filmmaking at many festivals including Cannes and SXSW.


Los Angeles

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