by John Stoltenberg

Watching this incendiary David Mamet script performed at Theater J, I felt as though a conflagration of intense ideas and attitudes was in flames in my brain. And wow, what an engrossing experience it was.

The setup is itself a provocation. A white man is accused of raping a black woman. (Race was written a couple years before the Dominique Strauss-Kahn slimefest and eerily foreshadows it.) He arrives at a law firm seeking representation. There the lawyers—a black man, a white man, and a black woman—debate whether to take the case.  And wow, do the sparks fly.

I had to look at the playscript right after. To see how the heck Mamet did it. How he made dialogue combust. So you have to think. And squirm. And that’s how. Sentence fragments. Each one a strike-anywhere match.

The cast so “got” the explosive text that it seemed to have been whittled from flint just for them: James Whalen, Michael Anthony Williams, and Crashonda Edwards as the lawyers; Leo Erickson as the client. Perfectly paced by director John Vreeke.

In between scenes are sound-and-image montages, stunningly designed by Chris Baine and Jared Mezzocchi, that vividly evoke the history of racism in America. Underscoring this play’s inescapable point: That history ain’t over.

I admit to an admiring but love-hate relationship with David Mamet’s writing. Loved Glengarry Glen Ross, Mamet’s machismo-in-a-musky-real-estate-office epic; hated Oleanna, his equivocation about student-teacher sexual harassment.

But Race definitely goes into the “loved it” category. With a blaze of infamy and glory.