With the decline of the newspapers, mainstream coverage of Broadway and other New York theater has dwindled. The flip side is that there are fewer bigshot reviewers with inflated influence. In response, producers have become hip to the importance of bloggers to getting out advance word about new shows (and then reviewing them).
Today I had the opportunity to meet the all-star cast of the upcoming premiere of David Mamet's new play, Race. David Alan Grier, Kerry Washington, the seemingly ageless Richard Thomas, and James Spader, who confessed that he hasn't done a play in decades, met us upstairs at Red-Eye Grill near Columbus Circle and answered questions about the play, the process, and their own backgrounds.
Understandably, they couldn't tell us anything about the plot. But as the new production of Oleanna reminds us, Mamet's work has a way of generating heat, and the very title of the new play seems to promise a controversial or at least highly thought-provoking evening. Besides, said Thomas, it's "so complex, so many perspectives – to talk about the plot would be reductive. A quick summation would make it seem much simpler than it is. It's about things that no one says. It's strong stuff. Provocative, but not shocking for the sake of being shocking."
“I play,” he was willing to squeeze out, "a man in a suit who's in a lot of trouble." And muttered something about lawyers.
Mamet is directing too, which has the benefit that "we don't have that struggle [to understand the writer's intention] because the man is in the room," as Washington put it. "The playwright and director aren't arguing," added Thomas.
About Mamet's famously exacting language, Spader noted that "you can't stumble your way through this material or be off by a syllable." Mamet loves patterns, and they can get ruined if anything like improvisation occurs. At the same time, the play is still being rewritten as the cast works through it in rehearsal, including tiny things like adding an "and," then changing the "and" to a "but" – those little patterns and sounds that mean so much in a Mamet script. And yes, if you're wondering, there's cursing, though Thomas complained, "I have only one 'fuck.'" ("Richard, you're married," Grier interjected.) "And I'm afraid if I don't say it right I might lose it."
While Grier and Thomas have done a good deal of theater in recent years, having left (respectively) In Living Color and The Waltons behind long ago. (For example, I saw Thomas in Michael Frayn's Democracy on Broadway a few years back.) Nearly all of Spader's career, however, has been in film (Sex, Lies, and Videotape, Crash) and TV (Boston Legal, The Practice), and "I'm really glad to be doing a play again after so many years," he said. Washington is best known for screen work as well (Ray, Fantastic Four), but told us that she "fell in love with acting doing theater. This is where I learned to be an actor."
About Race and David Mamet, she says, "The process is delightful and fun and challenging and creative, he's fantastic." Of course, actors have to say things like that. But this cast seemed genuinely enthusiastic about the play, and Thomas predicted that "there'll be a lot of talking about it after it's been seen."
Previews begin Nov. 16. Tickets are available at Telecharge.